LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Sexting: Research Criteria of a Globalized Social Phenomenon
Jose R. Agustina •Esperanza L. Go
Published online: 19 October 2012
Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012
We read with great interest the study on sexting by high school
students reported by Strassberg, McKinnon, Sustaita, and Rullo
(2012). They accurately highlighted methodological limitations
of previous studies, some of them published in the popular press.
Sexting deﬁnitional problems were also pointed out. We agree
that most studies used vague deﬁnitional terms and heteroge-
neous descriptions. As noted by Lounsbury, Mitchell, and
Finkelhor (2011), reporting very different sexting rates can lead
to public misperception. Representativeness of samples also
seems doubtful. Table 1summarizes a review of main research
ﬁndings, including our own unpublished data.
We conducted a survey among university students, using a
self-administered questionnaire. We mostly replicated the online
questionnaire designed for the study on sexting conducted by the
National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy
(2008). However, in our study, participants were present at the
time of the survey. Percentages reported for our sample were
higher than those previously described. This ﬁnding could be
related to an older age of the sample (M, 20.4 years, SD =3.0).
Strassberg et al. (2012) emphasized that age effect and parents’
next-room presence during the interview may lead to an under-
estimation of the overall prevalence of sexting among minors.
Therefore, we would like to vindicate the beneﬁts of direct sur-
veys of young adults, as asking adults retrospectively may
diminish reluctance to answer about their teen-experiences
(assuming that there would be other biases).
Sexting is a social phenomenon; thus, cross-cultural differ-
ences may occur. Spanish media do not pay substantial attention
to this phenomenon; yet, public policies are limited and scientiﬁc
information in this area comes almost entirely from the U.S.
Mitchell, Wolak, and Finkelhor (2007) reported a higher per-
centage of unwanted exposure to pornography among Hispanic
participants and Ferguson (2012) studied young Hispanic women,
reporting similar percentages to the results of previous studies
with non-Hispanic samples. If country-speciﬁc features apply for
our situation, the interpretations of epidemiological data from
outside our borders may create inaccurate impressions that can be
misleading and thus may hinder public health and educational
interventions. Nevertheless, our results were similar or somewhat
higher to those internationally reported, notwithstanding the lack
of awareness of public opinion of this silent problem.
Despitesampledifferencesamong studies, our results and
literature review point to a globalized presence of sexting.
Potentially serious legal and psychological consequences for
teens have been reported (Strassberg et al., 2012) and develop-
mentally appropriate prevention strategies that target youths
directly are needed (World Health Organization, 2011). The
World Health Organization (2011) states that ‘‘the most polar-
izing public health threat presented by the Internet may be as a
means to intentionally or unwittingly jeopardize the safety of
children and adolescents.’’ However, less than a quarter of
responding countries legally require the use of safety tools and
security technologies in public Internet facilities used by children
(the United States being the most progressive region in imple-
menting these measures).
In an increasing digitalized world, child usage of new tech-
nologies presents both enormous possibilities and challenges.
Current scientiﬁc data, such as reported by Strassberg et al.
(2012), point to the importance of countries and international
J. R. Agustina E. L. Go
Department of Criminal Law and Criminology, Universitat
Internacional de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain
E. L. Go
Servei de Responsabilitat Professional, Collegi de Metges de
Barcelona, Passeig de la Bonanova, 47, 08017 Barcelona, Spain
E. L. Go
`ria de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
Arch Sex Behav (2012) 41:1325–1328
Table 1 Sexting studies
Study Phenomenon studied Sample Results
Mitchell, Wolak, and
Unwanted exposure to pornography:‘‘ﬁnd
yourself in a web site that showed
pictures of naked people or of people
having sex when you did not want to be
in that kind of site’’or‘‘an e-mail or
instant message or a link in a message
that showed you actual pictures of
naked people or people having sex that
you did not want’’
1500 internet users, ages 10–17 Year 2000.
9 % ages 10–12, 28 %ages 13–15, and
33 % ages 16–17.
23 % girls and 27% boys
19 % ages 10–12, 35 % ages 13–15, and
44 % ages 16–17.
31 % girls and 37% boys
National Campaign to
Prevent Teen and
‘‘sent, or posted online, nude or semi-nude
pictures or video of themselves’’
653 teens, ages 13–19; 627 adults,
20 % of teens (18% of boys and 22% of
girls) had sent or posted nude or semi-
nude pictures or videos of themselves
on the Internet or through a cell phone
Thomas (2009) ‘‘sending sexually suggestive text
messages or emails with nude or nearly-
655 teens, ages 13–18 19 % had engaged in sexting; 12 % of teen
girls and 6 % of teen boys had sent a
‘‘se x t .’’
Sext senders were more likely to be girls
(65 % vs. 35 % boys) and older teens ages
16–18 (61 % vs. 39 % ages 13–15).
Nearly all sext senders had also received a
3 % forwarded a sext
‘‘sending or forwarding nude, sexually
suggestive, or explicit pics on your cell
1,247 young people 14–24 33 % ages 18–24.
24 %ages 14–17.
29 % had received messages with ‘‘sexual
words or images’’by cell phone or on the
10 % shared a naked image of themselves.
Females were more likely to produce the
images (13 % vs. 9% of males).
Males were more likely to receive the
images (14 % vs. 9% of females).
17 % forwarded the sext
Phippen (2009) ‘‘the sharing of explicit images
electronically’’and ‘‘any of your friends
shared intimate pictures/videos with a
boyfriend or girlfriend’’
535 students ages 13–18 40 % of students knew friends who had
Lenhart (2009) [sent or received]‘‘sexually suggestive
nude or nearly nude photo or
video…using your cell phone’’
800 teens, ages 12–17 4 % had sent such images and 15 %
8 % of 17-year-olds had sent such images
and 30 % had received them.
4 % of 12-year-olds had sent such images
and 4 % had received them
Ferguson (2011) ‘‘sending or receiving erotic or nude
207 young Hispanic women, ages
20.5 % reported sending sexts of
themselves to others and 34.5 %
1326 Arch Sex Behav (2012) 41:1325–1328
organizations to work in collaboration in order to minimize
Agustina,J., & Go
´n, E. L. (2012). Sexting by Spanish university
Associated Press-MTV. (2009). Digital abuse survey. Knowledge
networks. Retrieved from http://surveys.ap.org/data/Knowledge
Ferguson, C. J. (2011). Sexting behaviors among young Hispanic
women: Incidence and association with other high-risk sexual
behaviors. Psychiatric Quarterly, 82, 239–243.
Lenhart, A. (2009, December 15). Teens and sexting. Retrieved from
Table 1 continued
Study Phenomenon studied Sample Results
´rez, Fuente, Garcı
Guijarro, and Blas
‘‘receiving photos or videos of their peers
in provocative or inappropriate poses’’
or‘‘pictures or videos have been taken
of them in provocative or inappropriate
322 interviews with minors, ages
8.1 % received photos or videos of their
peers in provocative or inappropriate
4 % acknowledged that pictures or videos
had been taken of them in provocative or
(6.1 % among adolescents aged 15–16).
14.3 % of children know a friend who has
taken erotic or daring photos, and 11.5 %
knows a peer who has received such
Wolak, Finkelhor, and
‘‘sexual images created by minors (age 17
or younger) that were or could have
been child pornography under relevant
statutes according to respondents.’’
675 interviews with investigators
about sexting cases handled by
64 % did not involve adults. 31 % were
‘‘youth-only’’cases but aggravated
because youth behaved in a non-
consensual, malicious, exploitative, or
Jones, and Wolak
Appear in or create or receive ‘‘nude or
nearly nude pictures or videos’’ or
‘‘sexually explicit images’’
1560 youth internet users, ages 10
2.5 % appeared in or created nude or
nearly nude pictures or videos (61 %
were girls, 72 % were ages 16–17).
7.1 % received nude or nearly nude
pictures or videos (56 % were girls, 55 %
were ages 16–17).
1 % appeared in or created and 5.9 %
received sexually explicit images
´ta, and Rullo
Sending and receiving sexually explicit
cell phone pictures (i.e., sexting),
deﬁned as ‘‘pictures depicting the
genitals or buttocks for both sexes and/
or the breasts for females.’’
606 high school students 18.3 % of males and 17.3 % of females had
sent a sext of themselves.
49.7 % of males and 30.9 % of females had
received a sext.
27 % of males and 21.4% of females
forwarded the picture
Agustina and Go
Sending, posting, receiving, or sharing a
‘‘sexually suggestive message to
someone using electronic media’’ or
‘‘involving a self-nude or semi-nude
149 young university students,
ages 18–29 (46.3 % ages
18–19 years, 39.6 % ages
20–22 years, and 14.1 % ages
69.4 % had received a sexually suggestive
message to someone, 67.3 % had sent it
(69.6 % and 66.6% respectively, ages
(72.3 % and 74.5 % of males, respectively
vs. 68.3 % and 64.4% of females,
39.7 % had received self-nude or semi-
nude pictures/videos, 10.3 %
acknowledged to have sent it.
(38.2 % and 14.7% ages 18–19).
(40.4 % and 4.2% of males, respectively
vs. 40 % and 14% of females,
Arch Sex Behav (2012) 41:1325–1328 1327
Lounsbury, K., Mitchell, K. J., & Finkelhor, D. (2011, April). The true
prevalence of ‘‘sexting’’. Retrieved from http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/
Mitchell, K. J., Finkelhor, D., Jones, L. M., & Wolak, J. (2012).
Prevalence and characteristics of youth sexting: A national study.
Pediatrics, 129, 13–20.
Mitchell, K. J., Wolak, J., & Finkelhor, D. (2007). Trends in youth
reports of sexual solicitations, harassment and unwanted exposure
to pornography on the Internet. Journal of Adolescent Health, 40,
National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy &
CosmoGirl.com. (2008). Sex and tech: Results from a survey of
teens and young adults. Retrieved from http://www.thenational
´rez, P., Fuente, S., Garcı
´a, L., Guijarro, J. & Blas, M. E. (2010, April).
Study on safety and privacy in the use of mobile services by
Spanish minors. Retrieved from http://www.inteco.es/Security/
Phippen, A. (2009). Sharing personal images and videos among young
people. Retrieved from http://blackpoollscb.org.uk/contents/
Strassberg, D. S., McKinnon, R. K., Sustaı
´ta, M. A., & Rullo, J. (2012).
Sexting by high school students: An exploratory and descriptive
study. Archives of Sexual Behavior. doi:10.1007/s10508-012-
Thomas, K. (2009, May). Teen online & wireless safety survey:
Cyberbullying, sexting, and parental controls. Retrieved from
Wolak, J., Finkelhor, D., & Mitchell, K. J. (2012). How often are teens
arrested for sexting? Data from a national sample of police cases.
Pediatrics, 129, 4–12.
World Health Organization. (2011). Safety and security on the Internet.
Retrieved from http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2011/9789
1328 Arch Sex Behav (2012) 41:1325–1328