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Abstract

In recent years, the emergence of the phenomenon of sexting has generated significant media and social concern. The practice of sexting has proven to be problematic, having led to serious psychological and legal consequences, particularly in the case of teenagers, highlighting the urgent need to develop adequate prevention strategies. Moreover, by sending sexting messages, images or videos, children (and adults) can inadvertently and irreversibly cross a risk threshold that exposes them to different types of victimization (blackmail, revenge or simply highly damaging indiscretions). Furthermore, sexting may constitute the beginning of sexual crimes initiated via ICTs (Wolak et al. 2004).
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Sexting: Research Criteria of a Globalized Social Phenomenon
Jose R. Agustina Esperanza L. Go
´mez-Dura
´n
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findings, including our own unpublished data.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
´mez-Dura
´n
Department of Criminal Law and Criminology, Universitat
Internacional de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain
E. L. Go
´mez-Dura
´n(&)
Servei de Responsabilitat Professional, Collegi de Metges de
Barcelona, Passeig de la Bonanova, 47, 08017 Barcelona, Spain
e-mail: elgomezduran@gmail.com
E. L. Go
´mez-Dura
´n
Fundacio
´Sociosanita
`ria de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
123
Arch Sex Behav (2012) 41:1325–1328
DOI 10.1007/s10508-012-0038-0
Table 1 Sexting studies
Study Phenomenon studied Sample Results
Mitchell, Wolak, and
Finkelhor (2007)
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
Year 2005.
19 % ages 10–12, 35 % ages 13–15, and
44 % ages 16–17.
31 % girls and 37% boys
National Campaign to
Prevent Teen and
Unplanned Pregnancy
and CosmoGirl.com
(2008)
‘sent, or posted online, nude or semi-nude
pictures or video of themselves’
653 teens, ages 13–19; 627 adults,
ages 20–26
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-
nude photos’
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
sext.
3 % forwarded a sext
Associated Press-MTV
(2009)
‘sending or forwarding nude, sexually
suggestive, or explicit pics on your cell
or online’
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
Internet.
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
sexted
Lenhart (2009) [sent or received]‘sexually suggestive
nude or nearly nude photo or
videousing your cell phone’
800 teens, ages 12–17 4 % had sent such images and 15 %
received them.
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
photographs’
207 young Hispanic women, ages
16–25
20.5 % reported sending sexts of
themselves to others and 34.5 %
receiving them
1326 Arch Sex Behav (2012) 41:1325–1328
123
organizations to work in collaboration in order to minimize
potential risks.
References
Agustina,J., & Go
´mez-Dura
´n, E. L. (2012). Sexting by Spanish university
students.Manuscriptinpreparation.
Associated Press-MTV. (2009). Digital abuse survey. Knowledge
networks. Retrieved from http://surveys.ap.org/data/Knowledge
Networks/AP_Digital_Abuse_Topline_092209.pdf
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
http://www.pewinternet.org/*/media//Files/Reports/2009/PIP_
Teens_and_Sexting.pdf
Table 1 continued
Study Phenomenon studied Sample Results
Pe
´rez, Fuente, Garcı
´a,
Guijarro, and Blas
(2010)
‘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
poses’
322 interviews with minors, ages
10–16
8.1 % received photos or videos of their
peers in provocative or inappropriate
poses.
4 % acknowledged that pictures or videos
had been taken of them in provocative or
inappropriate poses.
(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
images
Wolak, Finkelhor, and
Mitchell (2012)
‘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
police
3477 cases.
64 % did not involve adults. 31 % were
‘youth-only’’cases but aggravated
because youth behaved in a non-
consensual, malicious, exploitative, or
criminal way
Mitchell, Finkelhor,
Jones, and Wolak
(2012)
Appear in or create or receive ‘‘nude or
nearly nude pictures or videos’’ or
‘sexually explicit images’’
1560 youth internet users, ages 10
through 17
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
Strassberg, McKinnon,
Sustaı
´ta, and Rullo
(2012)
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
´mez-
Dura
´n(2012)
Sending, posting, receiving, or sharing a
‘sexually suggestive message to
someone using electronic media’’ or
‘involving a self-nude or semi-nude
picture/video’
149 young university students,
ages 18–29 (46.3 % ages
18–19 years, 39.6 % ages
20–22 years, and 14.1 % ages
23–29)
69.4 % had received a sexually suggestive
message to someone, 67.3 % had sent it
(69.6 % and 66.6% respectively, ages
18–19)
(72.3 % and 74.5 % of males, respectively
vs. 68.3 % and 64.4% of females,
respectively).
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,
respectively)
Arch Sex Behav (2012) 41:1325–1328 1327
123
Lounsbury, K., Mitchell, K. J., & Finkelhor, D. (2011, April). The true
prevalence of ‘‘sexting’’. Retrieved from http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/
pdf/Sexting%20Fact%20Sheet%204_29_11.pdf
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,
116–126.
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
campaign.org/sextech/pdf/sextech_summary.pdf
Pe
´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/
Observatory/Studies/English_Estudio_moviles_menores
Phippen, A. (2009). Sharing personal images and videos among young
people. Retrieved from http://blackpoollscb.org.uk/contents/
documents/sexting-detail.pdf
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-
9969-8.
Thomas, K. (2009, May). Teen online & wireless safety survey:
Cyberbullying, sexting, and parental controls. Retrieved from
http://ksdresources.pbworks.com/f/
2009_teen_survey_internet_and_wireless_safety%5B1%5D.pdf
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
241564397_eng.pdf
1328 Arch Sex Behav (2012) 41:1325–1328
123
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To obtain national estimates of youth involved in sexting in the past year (the transmission via cell phone, the Internet, and other electronic media of sexual images), as well as provide details of the youth involved and the nature of the sexual images. The study was based on a cross-sectional national telephone survey of 1560 youth Internet users, ages 10 through 17. Estimates varied considerably depending on the nature of the images or videos and the role of the youth involved. Two and one-half percent of youth had appeared in or created nude or nearly nude pictures or videos. However, this percentage is reduced to 1.0% when the definition is restricted to only include images that were sexually explicit (ie, showed naked breasts, genitals, or bottoms). Of the youth who participated in the survey, 7.1% said they had received nude or nearly nude images of others; 5.9% of youth reported receiving sexually explicit images. Few youth distributed these images. Because policy debates on youth sexting behavior focus on concerns about the production and possession of illegal child pornography, it is important to have research that collects details about the nature of the sexual images rather than using ambiguous screening questions without follow-ups. The rate of youth exposure to sexting highlights a need to provide them with information about legal consequences of sexting and advice about what to do if they receive a sexting image. However, the data suggest that appearing in, creating, or receiving sexual images is far from being a normative behavior for youth.
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Several legal cases in the United States in which adolescents were charged with child pornography distribution after sharing nude photographs of themselves with romantic partners or others have highlighted the issue of sexting behaviors among youth. Although policy makers, mental health workers, educators and parents have all expressed concern regarding the potential harm of sexting behaviors, little to no research has examined this phenomenon empirically. The current study presents some preliminary data on the incidence of sexting behavior and associated high risk sexual behaviors in a sample of 207 predominantly Hispanic young women age 16-25. Approximately 20% of young women reported engaging in sexting behavior. Sexting behaviors were not associated with most other high-risk sexual behaviors, but were slightly more common in women who found sex to be highly pleasurable or who displayed histrionic personality traits.
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This study was designed to track trends in reports of unwanted sexual solicitations, harassment, and unwanted exposure to pornography via the Internet between 2000 and 2005 across various demographic sub-groups of youth. Cross-sectional data was collected in two equivalent national telephone surveys of 1500 Internet users, ages 10 through 17 years. Bivariate and multivariate analyses were used to determine whether the percentage of youth reporting specific unwanted Internet experiences had changed in 2005, as compared with 2000. The overall incidence and 5-year trends of reporting unwanted sexual solicitations, harassment, and unwanted exposure to pornography varied by age, gender, race, and household income. In particular, the decline in the percentage of youth reporting sexual solicitations was apparent for both boys and girls, all age groups, but not among minority youth and those living in less affluent households. The increase in harassment among particular sub-groups of youth was largely explained by increases in amount of Internet use over the past five years. The increase in unwanted exposure to pornography was particularly apparent among 10- to 12-year-olds, 16- to 17-year-olds, boys, and White, non-Hispanic youth. The decline in the percentage of youth reporting sexual solicitations may be the effect of education and law enforcement activity on this issue in the intervening years. Targeted prevention efforts for minority youth and those living in less affluent households need to be developed. The rise in unwanted pornography exposure may reflect technological changes such as digital photography, faster Internet connections and computer storage capacities, as well as the more aggressive marketing strategies of pornography merchants.
Sexting by Spanish university students
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Study on safety and privacy in the use of mobile services by Spanish minors
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Phippen, A. (2009). Sharing personal images and videos among young people. Retrieved from http://blackpoollscb.org.uk/contents/ documents/sexting-detail.pdf