Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Journal of Adolescence
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/adolescence
Sexting as the mirror on the wall: Body-esteem attribution, media
models, and objectiﬁed-body consciousness
, Mara Morelli
, Roberto Baiocco
, Antonio Chirumbolo
Department of Developmental & Social Psychology, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy
Department of Human and Social Science, Université de la Vallée d'Aoste, Italy
Sexting motivations during adolescence are related to developmental dimensions—such as sexual
identity and body-image development—or harmful intentions—such as aggression among peers
and partners. Sociocultural and media models can aﬀect explorations of sexuality and redeﬁni-
tions of body image, which in turn are related to sexting behaviors and motivations. In this study,
we investigated the roles of body-esteem attribution, the internalization of media models, and
body objectiﬁcation as predictors of three sexting motivations: sexual purposes, body-image
reinforcement, and instrumental/aggravated reasons. The participants were 190 Italian adoles-
cents aged from 13 to 20 years old (M
= 17.4, SD
= 1.8; 44.7% females). Sexual purposes
were predicted by body-esteem attribution and body objectiﬁcation; body-image reinforcement
was predicted by the internalization of media models, and instrumental/aggravated reasons were
not predicted by any variable. Thus, only sexual purposes and body-image reinforcement ap-
peared to be aﬀected by body-image concerns due to media models.
1. Sexting behaviors and motivations
During the last decade, new technologies and media-based communications have provided a new way for managing social in-
teractions and intimate relationships. Smartphones, the Internet, and social networks can also be vehicles for exploring and ex-
pressing sexuality. Deﬁned by Chalfen (2009) as the exchange of sexually suggestive and provocative contents via smartphones, the
Internet, or social networks, sexting appears to be very common among young people (Dir, Coskunpinar, Steiner, & Cyders, 2013;
Morelli, Bianchi, Baiocco, Pezzuti, & Chirumbolo, 2016a). The prevalence of sexting behaviors increases with the spread of new
technologies. The ﬁrst surveys on adolescents found the percentages of sexting to be between 20% and 33% (Eurispes & Telefono
Azzurro, 2012; National Campaign & Cosmogirl, 2008). A more recent study (Morelli et al., 2016a) found higher percenta-
ges—distinguishing between receiving sexts (78%), privately sending sexts (73%), and publicly posting sexts (9%).
We conceived the present study in line with a developmental interpretation proposed by the psychological literature on ado-
lescents' sexting (Levine, 2013). According to this perspective, sexting is now a normal expression of sexuality through new tech-
nologies (Bianchi, Morelli, Baiocco, & Chirumbolo, 2016), and it is just one of the new methods that media-based communications
have provided for facing some of adolescents' normative and developmental tasks (Šmahel & Subrahmanyam, 2014).
Studies on sexting motivations (Siibak, 2009; Vanden Abeele, Campbell, Eggermont, & Roe, 2014) have revealed the need for
acceptance and popularity among peers. This need also has a relevant role in facing adolescent developmental tasks related to
identity construction, new interest in sexuality, and the redeﬁnition of body image (Blos, 1979; Erikson, 1970). All of these
Received 15 December 2016; Received in revised form 16 October 2017; Accepted 19 October 2017
E-mail address: email@example.com (D. Bianchi).
Journal of Adolescence 61 (2017) 164–172
0140-1971/ © 2017 The Foundation for Professionals in Services for Adolescents. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
developmental tasks contribute to identity redeﬁnition through social comparisons with peers (Festinger, 1954; Suls,
Martin, & Wheeler, 2002). Indeed, the most frequently reported motivation for sexting during adolescence has been related to
achieving sexual and social aims (such as ﬂirting, initiating sexual activity, capturing attention, arousing a potential partner as
foreplay, having fun, joking, achieving popularity, and imitating friends), which are two key developmental tasks during adolescence
(Lenhart, 2009). Furthermore, some recent studies (Bianchi, Morelli, Baiocco, & Chirumbolo, 2017; Bianchi et al., 2016; Chalfen,
2009; Henderson & Morgan, 2011; Siibak, 2009) have found that sexting can work as a form of self-expression underlying body-image
redeﬁnition. Thus, all of these sexting motivations relate to important developmental tasks that adolescents have to manage, sup-
porting a normative interpretation of sexting behaviors (Levine, 2013). More speciﬁcally, online self-presentations appear to be
frequently used by adolescents to express and explore their developing identities (Schmitt, Dayanim, & Matthias, 2008; Walrave,
Heirman, & Hallam, 2014; Šmahel & Subrahmanyam, 2014).
On the other hand, the literature (Drouin, Ross, & Tobin, 2015) has also underlined the presence of more harmful motivations that
go beyond sexuality itself and seem to hide aggressive aspects—such as being pressured by partners and friends; embarrassing
someone, being aggressive, and seeking revenge among partners. There are also secondary aims of sexting, such as to receive gifts or
telephone recharges (AP-MTV, 2009; Bianchi et al., 2016; Eurispes &Telefono Azzurro, 2012). These sexting motivations are related
to a problematic and deviant facet of sexting behaviors. Several studies (Morelli, Bianchi, Baiocco, Pezzuti, & Chirumbolo, 2016b,
2016a; Vanden Abeele et al., 2014; Walrave et al., 2014) have found that sexting can be a vehicle for relational violence among peers
and in dating relationships, becoming a new kind of gendered sexual harassment (Walker, Sanci, & Temple-Smith, 2013). The lack of
direct feedback and nonverbal communication—the disinhibition eﬀect, as deﬁned by Suler (2004)—can facilitate young people's
expressions of aggression in online environments. Furthermore, the false sense of privacy provided by the online dimension can
facilitate the perpetration of violence (Walrave et al., 2014) and can explain the exploitation of sexual contents for the obtainment of
some rewards. This instrumental use of sexting as an exchange of favors is based on a power imbalance between partners and peers,
representing a source of pressure to engage in sexting. Gibson (2016) suggested that, in line with the social exchange theory (Cook,
Cheshire, Rice, & Nakagawa, 2013), this power imbalance leads to a limitation of sexual freedom because providing sexual favors
involves a feeling of obligation in spite of spontaneous self-disclosure (Emmers-Sommers et al., 2010).
We have demonstrated in our work that the abovementioned sexting motivations can be summarized in a three-factor mod-
el—composed of sexual motivations (related to the expression and exploration of sexuality among peers and between romantic
partners), body-image reinforcement (sharing sexts to look for a feedback from peers about body adequacy), and instrumental/
aggravated reasons (the exploitation of sexual contents for relational aggression or the obtainment of something else) (Bianchi et al.,
2016). These three motivational areas can be conceived in the framework of motivational systems that guide individual behavior, as
theorized by Lichtenberg (2013). Thus, instrumental/aggravated motivations are related to aggravated (harmful) sexting behaviors
whereas the previous motivations (sexual aims and body-image reinforcement) are an expression of experimental (developmental and
normative) sexting, as suggested by a study on the legal implications of sexting (Wolak, Finkelhor, & Mitchell, 2012).
1.1. Sociocultural correlates of sexting motivations
As suggested by Walrave et al. (2014), the willingness to engage in sexting is inﬂuenced by not only intraindividual factors but
also extra individual factors—such as perceived social pressure and subjective norms, shaped by peer groups' approval. Recently, the
social cognitive theory (SCT; Bandura, 2001)has also been applied to study the eﬀects of media contents on individual cognitive
processes. According to the SCT, social behaviors and cognitive processes are shaped in interactions with the social environment. As
stated by van Oosten and Vandenbosch (2017) and in line with the SCT (Bandura, 2001), the individuals' observations of peers and
media models could inﬂuence their attitudes and beliefs on a speciﬁc behavior; could shape their thoughts, aﬀects, and actions; and
consequently, could aﬀect both behaviors and cognitions.
Within this theoretical framework, sexting behaviors and motivations are closely linked to other social contexts including peers
and the media. According to Ringrose, Gill, Livingstone, and Harvey (2012), sexting can be interpreted as an expression of a sex-
ualized culture which implies the sexual objectiﬁcation of bodies through the sexualized images and models proposed in mainstream
media. Moreover, the sexual objectiﬁcation of bodies also leads to early sexual debut (Lerum & Dworkin, 2009; Pearson, Kholodkov,
Henson, & Impett, 2012). Previous studies (Schick et al., 2010; Woertman & van den Brink, 2012) have also found that body sa-
tisfaction and body self-esteem, both in general and in sexual contexts, were indexes of normal and adaptive sexual functioning in
Literature described body objectiﬁcation as the internalization of an external gaze on one's body and the evaluation of the body as
an object that needs to adapt to sociocultural standards (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997; McKinley & Hyde, 1996). Some individuals
who are more sensitive to sociocultural and media models perceive higher pressure from these standards, leading to a higher ob-
jectiﬁed-body consciousness (McKinley & Hyde, 1996). The objectiﬁed-body consciousness was deﬁned by McKinley and Hyde
(1996) as tendencies to consider one's body as an object under others' evaluation and to believe that one's body should conform to
sociocultural standards. According to McKinley and Hyde (1996) this phenomenon is characterized by perceived shame and sur-
veillance about own body, and by beliefs of control about appearance. During adolescence, people are more likely to develop body
self-objectiﬁcation because it arises from pubertal changes and increased peer attention (Lindberg, Grabe, & Hyde, 2007). There are
high levels of body objectiﬁcation in young people with a history of peer sexual harassment, which undermined their value as sexual
partners and constituted a ﬁrst experience of sexual objectiﬁcation (Lindberg et al., 2007). Girls have been considered more sensitive
than boys to body objectiﬁcation due to sociocultural pressure to adapt to idealized models of beauty and thinness (Grabe,
Hyde, & Lindberg, 2007; Tiggemann & Kuring, 2004). However, a recent study (Daniel & Bridges, 2010) found that boys are also
D. Bianchi et al. Journal of Adolescence 61 (2017) 164–172
highly exposed to sociocultural and media pressure, speciﬁcally related to muscularity ideals, and research with adolescents has not
found gender diﬀerences in issues related to body objectiﬁcation, media models, and perceived pressure about the adolescents' bodies
(Knauss, Paxton, & Alsaker, 2008). Individuals with high levels of body objectiﬁcation show more body dissatisfaction (Knauss et al.,
2008) and address their body concerns with negative coping strategies, such as avoidance or continued eﬀorts to change one's
appearance; on the contrary, positive coping strategies, such as self-care or rational acceptance, are negatively related to body
objectiﬁcation (Choma, Shove, Busseri, Sadava, & Hosker, 2009). The objectiﬁed-body consciousness can lead to negative outcomes
for well-being—such as higher negative aﬀection (Miner-Rubino, Twenge, & Fredrickson, 2002), sexual impairment (Wiederman,
2000), rumination, and depression (Grabe et al., 2007).
Body self-esteem has been conceived in the literature (Mendelson, Mendelson, & White, 2001) as a multidimensional construct.
One of its dimensions refers to other people's evaluations of one's appearance, and it was named the body-esteem attribution, a
concept similar to the objectiﬁed-body consciousness; both of them refer to a facet of self-esteem dependent on an external point of
view and imply the sociocultural model's inﬂuence. Moreover, mass-media models aﬀect adolescents' perceptions about their ideal
body image, helping them to face developmental tasks related to body image and identity construction (Ata, Ludden, & Lally, 2007).
This process seems to take place actively because adolescents seek information and models in television and media, but it also seems
to take place by mere exposure to media contents (Harrison & Hefner, 2006). Thus, during adolescence, issues related to body
changes, sexuality exploration, and identity construction seem to be associated with several individual, social, and media inﬂuences.
1.2. Individual diﬀerences in sexting motivations
Therefore, in line with the SCT (Bandura, 2001), we aimed to investigate how body-esteem attribution, body objectiﬁcation, and
the internalization of media models are related to diﬀerent sexting motivations, controlling for sociodemographic variables—gender,
age, and sexual orientation. Gender diﬀerences in sexting behaviors and motivations have been broadly described in the literature:
Boys were found to be more likely than girls to engage in online sexual behaviors and risky sexual behaviors (Bongers, Koot, Van der
Ende, & Verhulst, 2003; Jonsson, Priebe, Bladh, & Svedin, 2014) and to report more instrumental/aggravated motivations (Bianchi
et al., 2016, 2017). Conversely, girls (vs. boys) are more likely to sext under pressure from partners and friends (Drouin & Tobin,
2014; Henderson & Morgan, 2011; Lippman & Campbell, 2014) or to sext to gain the attention of a potential partner and increase
their popularity among their peers (Bianchi et al., 2017; Lippman & Campbell, 2014).
Regarding age diﬀerences, sexting behaviors increase with age (Dake, Price, Maziarz, & Ward, 2012; Rice et al., 2012; Strassberg,
McKinnon, Sustaita, & Rullo, 2013), and young adults report more sexual motivations for sexting (Bianchi et al., 2017; National
Campaign & CosmoGirl, 2008).
Finally, research has also shown sexual orientation diﬀerences, with sexual minority people, mostly gay men, reporting more
sexting behaviors than their heterosexual counterparts do (Gámez Guadix, Almendros, Borrajo, & Calvete, 2015; Morelli et al., 2016a;
Rice et al., 2012). Some studies (Bauermeister, Yeagley, Meanley, & Pingel, 2014; Chong, Zhang, Mak, & Pang, 2015; Rice et al.,
2012) suggest that sexual minorities engage in a greater use of online environments for exploring their sexuality and meeting partners
and that same-sex couples found sexting more acceptable than heterosexual ones (Chong et al., 2015; Hertlein, Shadid, & Steelman,
2015). As theorized by the minority stress model (Meyer, 2003), new technologies appeared to facilitate relationships and com-
munication among sexual minorities—working as protective factors against the social stigma, prejudice, and discrimination that
aﬀect the psychological and relational well-being of sexual minorities.
2. Aims and hypotheses
Considering the abovementioned literature we aimed to examine the contributions of body esteem, objectiﬁed-body conscious-
ness, and the internalization of media models to sexting motivations among adolescents, beyond the documented eﬀects of gender,
age, and sexual orientation. Because of the sexual double standard (Ringrose, Harvey, Gill, & Livingstone, 2013), we expected an
eﬀect of gender on sexting motivations related to instrumental/aggravated reasons, which appear more frequently with boys (vs.
Due to the role of sexting as a precursor to sexual activity during development (Temple & Choi, 2014), we also expected that
sexual motivations related to sexual aims could be reported more often by young adults (vs. adolescents). Finally, in line with the
minority stress model (Meyer, 2003), we expected an eﬀect of sexual orientation on sexual purposes; we speciﬁcally hypothesized
that sexual minorities would show more sexual purposes than the heterosexual participants would.
However, beyond the eﬀect of these variables that we controlled for as covariates, we hypothesized that sexting for sexual
purposes is predicted by body-esteem attribution and body objectiﬁcation, in line with the previous literature (Schick et al., 2010;
Woertman & van den Brink, 2012). Moreover, we hypothesized that sexting for body-image reinforcement (i.e., achieving peers'
conﬁrmation about body adequacy) is predicted by the internalization of cultural and media models of idealized bodies. The com-
parison with idealized models provided by the media could make facing the developmental tasks related to the redeﬁnition and
acceptance of one's body image harder, increasing concerns of body adequacy among teenagers. Thus, sexting could become a new
vehicle for facing concerns about body image because the positive feedback from peers and potential partners works as a con-
ﬁrmation of body adequacy, as suggested in previous studies (Chalfen, 2009; Siibak, 2009). Conversely, regarding sexting for in-
strumental/aggravated reasons (i.e., secondary aims and harmful intentions), we did not expect any relationship with body-esteem
attribution, body objectiﬁcation, or the internalization of media models.
D. Bianchi et al. Journal of Adolescence 61 (2017) 164–172
The original sample included 257 participants aged from 13 to 20 (M
= 17.6; SD
= 1.9; 46.3% females). Only participants
who sent sexts at least once during the last year were selected to take part to the study (N= 190). Thus, the participants included in
the present study were 190 Italian adolescents aged from 13 to 20 (M
= 17.4; SD
= 1.8; 44.7% females) and were recruited in
secondary schools in urban and suburban areas of Rome. Regarding their sexual orientation, the majority of participants were
exclusively heterosexual (80.5%; n= 153). We conducted the data collection via an online survey because of research suggesting that
sensitive information is more candidly reported if the assessment is conducted via computer or online rather than via paper-and-
pencil questionnaires (Clark Newman et al., 2002). For underage participants, informed-consent forms were obtained from parents
and school authorities. All participants gave their informed consent in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. The Ethics
Committee of the Department of Social and Developmental Psychology of Sapienza University of Rome approved this study.
3.2.1. Sociodemographic data
We asked the participants about some demographic data such as age, gender, and sexual orientation. We assessed sexual or-
ientation through the Kinsey Scale (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948) on a 5-point Likert scale, from 1 (exclusively heterosexual) to 5
(exclusively homosexual). We then categorized the participants into two groups according to their answers: a group of exclusively
heterosexual adolescents who answered 1 and a group of not exclusively heterosexual adolescents who answered from 2 to 5.
3.2.2. Motivations for sexting
The Sexting Motivation Questionnaire (Bianchi et al., 2016) assessed motivations for sending sexts. Sexting was deﬁned as the
exchange of sexually suggestive or provocative text messages, photos, or videos by smartphone, the Internet, or social network
websites (Chalfen, 2009). The instrument, composed of 13 items rated on a 5-point Likert scale from 0 (Never) to 4 (Always), assessed
three motivations for sending sexts: a) sexual purposes, which refers to the sending of sexts for sexual aims (ﬁve items; e.g.,
“Sometimes I sext for ﬂirting or hooking up”); b) body-image reinforcement, which refers to the use of sexting in order to get social
reinforcement about the adequacy of one's body (three items; e.g., “Sometimes I sext to test if I am pretty enough”); or c) instru-
mental/aggravated reasons, which refer to the use of sexting for secondary aims not related to sexuality (ﬁve items; e.g., “Sometimes I
sext in exchange for money or gifts”). The three dimensions showed good reliability—with a Cronbach's alpha of 0.87 for sexual
purposes, 0.89 for body-image reinforcement, and 0.86 for instrumental/aggravated reasons.
3.2.3. Body-esteem attribution
The Attribution subscale from the Body Esteem Scale (BES, Confalonieri, Gatti, Ionio, & Traﬁcante, 2008; Mendelson et al., 2001)
was used to assess a speciﬁc dimension of body esteem that is related to evaluations attributed to other people about one's body. This
dimension included four items rated on a 5-point Likert scale from 1 (Never) to 5 (Always); a sample item is “My looks help me get
dates.”In the present study, the Attribution subscale showed a moderate reliability (α= 0.64).
3.2.4. Objectiﬁed body consciousness
The 14-item version of the Objectiﬁed-Body Consciousness Scale for Youth (Lindberg, Hyde, & McKinley, 2006) evaluated the
objectiﬁed-body consciousness (McKinley & Hyde, 1996). The scale evaluated body surveillance, body shame, and appearance-
control beliefs. A sample item was “I often compare how I look with how other people look.”Participants rated each item on a 7-point
Likert scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). In this study, the scale showed a good reliability (α= 0.74).
3.2.5. Internalization of sociocultural and media models
In order to assess the inﬂuence of sociocultural and mass media ideals on body evaluation, we selected four items from the
Sociocultural Attitudes Toward Appearance Questionnaire (Stefanile, Matera, Nerini, & Pisani, 2011; Thompson, van den Berg,
Roehrig, Guarda, & Heinberg, 2004) in order to investigate the internalization of beauty ideals and athletic body ideals provided by
the mass media (e.g., “I compare my appearance to the appearance of TV and movie stars”). The participants rated their answers on a
5-point Likert scale from 1 (Completely disagree) to 5 (Completely agree), and we computed a total score. The scale reached a
Cronbach's alpha of 0.78.
3.3. Data analysis
First, we computed correlations among all of variables included in the study. For descriptive purposes, we ran two independent
sample t-tests only for the categorical variables in order to verify gender and sexual orientation diﬀerences in sexting motivations, and
we computed the Cohen's das eﬀect sizes. Then, we ran three hierarchical-regression analyses in order to investigate whether body-
esteem attribution, objectiﬁed-body consciousness, and the internalization of sociocultural and media models could diﬀerently
predict the motivations for sending sexts (i.e., sexual purposes, body-image reinforcement, and instrumental/aggravated reason-
s)—controlling for age, gender, and sexual orientation. In the ﬁrst step of each regression, we included gender, age, and sexual
D. Bianchi et al. Journal of Adolescence 61 (2017) 164–172
orientation as covariates. In the second step, we regressed the criterion on body-esteem attribution, objectiﬁed-body consciousness,
and the internalization of sociocultural and media models.
4.1. Correlations among variables
Gender appeared related only to instrumental/aggravated reasons, which were reported more by males (vs. females), whereas age
appeared positively related only to sexual purposes, which were reported more by older adolescents (vs. younger). Sexual orientation,
too, was moderately related only to sexual purposes, which were more reported by not exclusively heterosexual participants (vs.
heterosexuals). Body-esteem attribution and objectiﬁed-body consciousness appeared modestly and positively related to both sexual
purposes and body-image reinforcement. Finally, the internalization of sociocultural and media models appeared to be positively and
modestly related to body-image reinforcement. The correlations and descriptive statistics are reported in Table 1.
Regarding the categorical variables, we found signiﬁcant gender diﬀerences only for instrumental/aggravated reasons—t
(188) = 2.84, p< 0.01, Cohen's d= 0.29. Males reported more instrumental/aggravated reasons than females did, conﬁrming the
correlations. We found signiﬁcant sexual orientation diﬀerences only for sexual purposes—t(188) = −3.37, p< 0.01, Cohen's
d= 0.62. Participants who were not exclusively heterosexual reported more sexual purposes than their exclusively heterosexual
counterparts did, conﬁrming correlations.
4.2. Hierarchical-regression analyses
We conducted three hierarchical-regression analyses by following the previously described procedure to determine whether body-
esteem attribution, objectiﬁed-body consciousness, and the internalization of sociocultural and media models predict sexual pur-
poses, body-image reinforcement, and instrumental/aggravated reasons, respectively, as motivations for sending sexts—controlling
Correlations among variables.
1.Gender 1 ––
2.Age 0.147* 1 17.04 1.76
3.Sexual Orientation 0.253** 0.132 1 ––
4.BES −0.180* −0.046 −0.032 1 12.01 3.05
5.OBC 0.363** 0.098 0.113 0.070 1 61.97 13.24
6.ISMM 0.124 0.081 0.067 0.165* 0.529** 1 11.37 4.21
7.Sexual purposes 0.121 0.224** 0.239** 0.237** 0.224** 0.124 1 2.32 1.07
8.Body image reinforcement 0.026 0.051 0.098 0.146* 0.188** 0.285** 0.580** 1 1.80 0.93
9.Instrumental/aggravated reasons −0.203** −0.059 0.020 0.065 −0.099 −0.063 0.151* 0.037 1 1.13 0.44
Note 1: **p< 0.01; *p< 0.05; Gender was coded as 0 = Males and 1 = Females. Sexual orientation was coded as 0 = exclusively heterosexuals and 1 = not
exclusively heterosexuals; BES = Body Esteem Scale Attribution; OBC = Objectiﬁed Body Consciousness; ISMM = Internalization of socio cultural and media models.
Hierarchical-regression analyses (N= 190).
Predictor Sexting motivations
Sexual purposes Body image reinforcement Instrumental/aggravated reasons
Step 1 0.10*** 0.01 0.05*
Gender 0.45 0.78 0.04 −0.02 0.43 −0.003 −0.95* 0.33 −0.22**
Age 0.58** 0.21 0.19** 0.06 0.12 0.04 −0.05 0.09 −0.04
Sexual Orientation 2.74** 0.98 0.20** 0.66 0.53 0.09 0.44 0.41 0.08
Step 2 0.09*** 0.09** 0.003
Gender 0.32 0.81 0.03 −0.17 0.45 −0.03 −0.20* −2.46 −0.20*
Age 0.58** 0.21 0.19** 0.04 0.11 0.02 −0.03 −0.46 −0.03
Sexual Orientation 2.7** 0.93 0.20** 0.59 0.51 0.08 0.08 1.08 0.08
BES 0.44** 0.12 0.25*** 0.09 0.07 0.10 0.04 0.49 0.04
OBC 0.07* 0.03 0.18* 0.01 0.02 0.06 −0.01 −0.15 −0.01
ISMM −0.06 0.10 −0.04 0.16** 0.06 0.23** −0.04 −0.46 −0.04
0.19*** 0.10** 0.05
Note. *p < 0.05; **p < 0.01 ***p < 0.001. Gender was coded as 0 = Males and 1 = Females. Sexual orientation was coded as 0 = exclusively heterosexuals and
1 = not exclusively heterosexuals; BES = Body Esteem Scale Attribution; OBC = Objectiﬁed Body Consciousness; ISMM = Internalization of socio cultural and media
models. Interaction eﬀects between each predictor (BES, OBC and ISMM) and gender were also tested, but no signiﬁcant interaction eﬀects were found.
D. Bianchi et al. Journal of Adolescence 61 (2017) 164–172
for gender, age, and sexual orientation. Regarding the ﬁrst hierarchical regression analysis in which we predicted sexual purposes,
the predictors—gender, age, and sexual orientation—entered in the ﬁrst step as covariates and accounted for 9.6% of the variance
Both age and sexual orientation emerged as signiﬁcant predictors, with older adolescents (vs. younger) and people who were not
exclusively heterosexual (vs. exclusively heterosexual) reporting more sexual purposes. In the second step—in which we added body-
esteem attribution, objectiﬁed-body consciousness, and the internalization of sociocultural and media models to the equa-
tion—18.7% of the variance was accounted for, with a signiﬁcant increment of 9.1% in the explained variance [ΔF[3, 183] = 6.84;
p= 0.000]. Age and sexual orientation were still signiﬁcant predictors but, controlling for these variables, body-esteem attribution,
and objectiﬁed body consciousness turned out to be signiﬁcant predictors of sexual purposes.
Regarding the second hierarchical-regression analysis, body-image reinforcement was regressed on the predictors gender, age,
and sexual orientation entered in the ﬁrst step. These predictors were revealed to not be signiﬁcant covariates, accounting for only
1.1% of the variance. In the second step, body-esteem attribution, objectiﬁed-body consciousness, and the internalization of socio-
cultural and media models were added to the equation, and 10.1% of the variance was accounted for, with a signiﬁcant increment of
9% in the explained variance [ΔF(3, 183) = 6.07; p= 0.001]. Only the internalization of sociocultural and media models turned out
to be a signiﬁcant predictor of body-image reinforcement.
Finally, regarding the third hierarchical-regression analysis, instrumental/aggravated reasons were regressed on the predictors
gender, age and sexual orientation, entered in the ﬁrst step as covariates. They accounted for 4.8% of the variance. Only gender
emerged as a signiﬁcant predictor, with boys (vs. girls) reporting more instrumental/aggravated reasons. In the second step—in
which body-esteem attribution, objectiﬁed-body consciousness, and the internalization of sociocultural and media models were
added to the equation—only the 5.1% of the variance was accounted for, and this increment of 0.3% in the explained variance was
not signiﬁcant [ΔF(3, 183) = 0.18, p=ns]. Thus, body-esteem attribution, objectiﬁed-body consciousness, and the internalization of
sociocultural and media models did not emerge as signiﬁcant predictors of instrumental/aggravated reasons.
In this study, we investigated sexting motivations during adolescence—distinguishing between developmental issues, such as
sexual aims and body-image reinforcement, and more deviant or harmful motivations, such as instrumental/aggravated reasons.
Speciﬁcally, we aimed to verify the relevance of body esteem, the objectiﬁed-body consciousness, and the internalization of socio-
cultural and media models in predicting diﬀerent sexting motivations. We also controlled for gender, age, and sexual orientation.
In line with our hypotheses, results on demographic variables showed that older adolescents and not exclusively heterosexual
participants were more likely to report sexual purposes as motivations for sending sexts. In recent literature (National
Campaign & CosmoGirl, 2008), sexting for sexual purposes increased with age, becoming the most reported sexting motivation among
young adults (Bianchi et al., 2016; 2017). A longitudinal study (Temple & Choi, 2014) showed that engaging in sexting leads to earlier
sexual activity, working as a precursor of sexual initiation. Thus, we pose that older adolescents have learned during their previous
experiences that sexting facilitates sexual intercourse and that they can purposely use it for sexual aims. Moreover, adolescents who
were not exclusively heterosexual reported more sexual purposes for engaging in sexting, conﬁrming previous literature about the
higher acceptance of sexting among same-sex couples (Chong et al., 2015; Hertlein et al., 2015) and the greater use of online and
mobile communication for meeting partners among sexual minorities (Bauermeister et al., 2014; Chong et al., 2015; Rice et al.,
2012). This result can be explained by the facilitating role of new media communication in friendship and dating relationships among
sexual minorities; online environments allow them to meet friends and potential partners and to express and explore their sexualities
and identities—providing the perception of safeness from social stigma and discrimination and working as a protective factor for
relational and psychological well-being among sexual minorities (Meyer, 2003).
Beyond the eﬀects of age and sexual orientation, body-esteem attribution and objectiﬁed-body consciousness predicted sexting for
sexual purposes. Thus, regarding body-esteem attribution, our results showed that adolescents who sext for sexual purposes had a
body self-esteem that was strongly dependent on others' supposed evaluations of their bodies. It is conceivable that this use of sexting
during adolescence implies the belief that, in order to engage in sexual intercourse, it is important to be well evaluated by a potential
partner, on whom the adolescent's self-esteem is dependent. Sexting for sexual purposes appeared to also imply body objectiﬁca-
tion—which was composed of shame, concerns, and unrealistic beliefs of control about body appearance. Body objectiﬁcation re-
ferred to belief of the body as an object that is evaluated according to cultural and sexualized standards and is perceived to belong less
to the self and more to others (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). Sexual objectiﬁcation of the body in the literature has been related to a
general impairment of sexual functioning and sexual satisfaction—leading to more social and sexual avoidance, higher sexual
anxiety, less sexual assertiveness, and lower sexual self-esteem (Calogero & Thompson, 2009; Sanchez & Kiefer, 2007;
Steer & Tiggemann, 2008; Wiederman, 2000; Yamamiya, Cash, & Thompson, 2006). Thus, adolescents with high body objectiﬁcation
are also more concerned about sexuality and sexual intercourse, experiencing them with more anxiety and less assertiveness. Con-
sequently, it is understandable how sexting could be a good vehicle for experiencing sexuality because it ensures control of body
image, provides more emotional disengagement, and helps the sender to be more assertive, in spite of the anxiety related to body and
sexual adequacy (Weisskirch & Delevi, 2011). A previous study on online behaviors (Suler, 2004) suggested that the characteristics of
the online dimension allow more emotional and moral disengagement.
Thus, when these body-image concerns are high, our results suggested that sexting could be a ﬁrst expression of sexuality during
adolescence, simultaneously guaranteeing control over body disclosure and testing the partner's response. These ﬁndings seem to
explain how sexting becomes a way of addressing developmental goals related to sexuality initiation and exploration, mostly for
D. Bianchi et al. Journal of Adolescence 61 (2017) 164–172
teenagers more concerned about body and sexual adequacy. These results are also consistent with the stimulation hypothesis
(Valkenburg & Peter, 2007; Valkenburg, Peter, & Schouten, 2006), which shows how media-based communication could improve self-
esteem and well-being due to positive feedback from peers.
In line with the SCT (Bandura, 2001), our results also indicated that sexting for body-image reinforcement appears to be predicted
by the internalization of mass-media models, after we controlled for demographic variables. These ﬁndings suggest that, when young
people are used to compare their bodies with idealized and unrealistic media models, they are also more likely to engage in sexting to
receive conﬁrmation about the adequacy of their bodies, probably thinking their bodies should be in line with media standards of
beauty and sexuality. These results are not aﬀected by gender, age, and sexual orientation—showing how the eﬀect of the inter-
nalization of media models on this sexting motivation is similar for males and females from early to late adolescence regardless to
sexual orientation. Sexting in this case may become an expression of a teen's developmental task, as suggested in our previous work
(Bianchi et al., 2017). It could also be an expression of a cultural issue related to comparisons with media models—generally aﬀecting
teens with higher appearance investment (Hargreaves & Tiggemann, 2004).
Finally, regarding instrumental/aggravated reasons for sexting, our results showed that they were more frequently reported by
males, which is consistent with previous literature (Morelli, Bianchi, Baiocco, Pezzuti, & Chirumbolo, 2016c; Romer & Hennessy,
2007) that found risky sexual behaviors more frequently among boys (vs. girls). After we controlled for demographic variables, none
of the body-image variables that we investigated were predictive of instrumental/aggravated motivations. Actually, our previous
work (Bianchi et al., 2016) showed that instrumental/aggravated sexting motivations were related to aggravated sexting behaviors,
such as not allowed sharing of sexts, suggesting the presence of other underlying variables, such as antisocial personality traits, that
future research should investigate.
This study has signiﬁcant research implications, as it conﬁrms the importance of taking into account the roles of cultural context
and developmental stages as antecedents of sexting for sexual aims and body-image conﬁrmation. Some of the relevant research
implications are also related to instrumental and aggravated sexting motivations, the antecedents of which should be deeply in-
vestigated. In other work (Bianchi et al., 2016, 2017) we documented the low prevalence of this sexting motivation but pointed out
its high-risk consequences, which are related to cyber aggression and the exploitation of sexual contents. Because of the low pre-
valence of this motivation, it is conceivable that this dimension could characterize speciﬁc high-risk samples regardless of socio-
cultural issues, which deserves further studies. For example, Romer, Reyna, and Satterthwaite (2017) found that maladaptive ten-
dencies toward sensation seeking and impulsive action are typical of young people with weak control over limbic motivation.
Moreover, further studies are needed to explore whether instrumental/aggravated sexting motivations are more strongly related to
the tendency to aggress toward peers and partners than sexual and body image motivations are. It is also conceivable that sexual and
body-image motivations for sexting could expose young people to suﬀer cyber-victimization and other forms of violence, but it is
possible that only instrumental/aggravated motivations could be indicators of the tendencies to perpetrate aggression and cyber-
aggression. Thus, research should investigate the inﬂuence of diﬀerent individual and contextual variables in this process.
Our ﬁndings also have clinical and educational implications. In consideration of the harmful and risky consequences of an unwise
use of sexting, prevention programs should be directed toward adolescents and preadolescents, as they are speciﬁc at-risk groups for
sociocultural pressure and concerns about body image. These educational programs should focus on improving knowledge of sexual
development and pubertal changes and deconstructing the idealized body image presented in the media—paying particular attention
to the needs of speciﬁc vulnerable groups such sexual minorities, as suggested by our ﬁndings and previous literature. Speciﬁc
education programs aimed at deconstructing gender stereotypes and media ideals could be useful in the prevention of sexting for
sexual purposes and body-image reinforcement. Conversely, increasing awareness about speciﬁc features of online contexts, such as
the false sense of privacy and easiness of disinhibition and aggressions, could be used to prevent sexting for instrumental and
aggravated reasons. Adolescents could also beneﬁt from interventions based on considerations of future consequences, with an
emphasis on problem solving and improving interpersonal sensitivity and empathy. Educational and prevention programs for speciﬁc
at-risk groups should be implemented with consideration for the higher prevalence of instrumental/aggravated motivations among
boys. These programs should focus on improving impulse control and awareness of risky behaviors, as suggested by recent neu-
roscience studies on risk-taking during adolescence (Romer et al., 2017; Shulman, Harden, Chein, & Steinberg, 2015). Regarding
clinical implications, brief screenings on adolescents could consider body-image concerns as a possible index of a normative use of
sexting, with requests for clinical attention only in the presence of a severe impairment of body image. Thus, our ﬁndings sustain the
interpretation of sexting as a common, normative behavior during adolescence that could support developmental goals and that
would deserve further attention only in the presence of speciﬁc high-risk motivations.
Nevertheless, the limitations of this study are related to the use of self-report instruments, which are usually aﬀected by social
desirability when sensitive information is investigated. Speciﬁcally, the null ﬁndings related to instrumental/aggravated reasons
could be due to both the low frequency of this speciﬁc motivation and the tendency to underreport these answers for social desir-
ability. Moreover, our results could be aﬀected by the cultural context. As suggested by a recent cross-cultural study on sexting
behaviors (Baumgartner, Sumter, Peter, Valkenburg, & Livingstone, 2014), attitudes and behaviors are shaped by cultural values and
spread by relevant social institutions—such as families, schools, and the media. Thus, future cross-cultural studies about sexting
motivations should be conducted in order to conﬁrm these results, taking into account the roles of traditionalism (Baumgartner et al.,
2014) and post-feminist media culture (Ringrose et al., 2013). Speciﬁcally, it is conceivable that gendered values in traditionalist
cultures could explain gender diﬀerences in sexting behaviors and motivations.
Finally, the study was cross sectional. Thus, we cannot infer causal but rather correlational relationships. Future longitudinal
studies should explore the causal relationships between body-image variables and sexting motivations during adolescence.
D. Bianchi et al. Journal of Adolescence 61 (2017) 164–172
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