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In Event: Traditional and New Media in the Etiology and Prevention of Interpersonal Violence During Adolescence
Background. “Sexting” is the sending or receiving of sexual or suggestive photos or videos via mobile phone technology or social media. Despite the moral panic surrounding sexting in the mass media and early research literature, scholars discuss sexting as part of normative sexual exploration for youth in the digital age (e.g., Lippman & Campbell, 2014). However, sexting becomes a concern when coercion or manipulation is involved. Emerging literature shows that girls are more likely to experience “coercive sexting” and its negative potential impacts (Lippman & Campbell, 2014; Walker, Sanci, & Temple-Smith, 2013, Englander, 2015). In this study, we investigated coercive sexting by exploring girls’ and boys’ motivations to sext and other individual and social factors that might contribute to differential negative consequences of sexting for girls.
Methods. A cross-sectional self-report survey study of 947 high school students was conducted at a large Midwest high school (56% girls, 13-19 years old, 72.2% White, 7% Black, 6.7% Asian, 4.7% Middle Eastern, 1.7% Latino). The majority of participants (90.7%) owned “smartphones” and all had home computer access. The majority reported having dating experience (74.2%). The survey gathered information on demographics, sexting behaviors, sexting motivations, and emotional reactions to being asked to send a sext to a dating partner (measures created for use in this study). Individual and social factors included measures of adult attachment orientation (levels of anxiety and avoidance; Experiences in Close Relationships Scale; Wei et al., 2007), self-sexualization, endorsement of the heterosexual dating script (Kim et al., 2007), and perceived peer norms around sexting.
Results. Survey results found 38.2% of girls and 31.6% of boys reported sending a sext. There were higher reports of receiving a sext (66.4% of girls and 91.7% of boys). The most commonly reported motivation for sending a sext for both boys and girls was “to be fun or flirtatious (55% and 56%, respectively). However, girls were significantly more likely to report sexting because of pressure from someone (39.4% of girls and 15% of boys) and because their partner asked repeatedly (33% of girls and 15% of boys). Girls were more likely to report negative emotional responses (e.g. scared, embarrassed); boys were more likely to report positive responses (e.g., happy, excited) to sexting requests. Regression analyses used individual characteristics (age, religiosity, attachment anxiety, attachment avoidance, gender beliefs, and self-sexualization) and social factors (perception of peer norms of sexting) to predict negative responses to being asked for sexual photos. For girls, negative responses were associated with being younger, higher levels of attachment anxiety, lower levels of self-objectification, and stronger religiosity. For boys, only lower level of self-objectification predicted negative responses.
Conclusions. Although boys and girls engage in sexting behaviors, they seem to experience and respond to sexting in their relationships differently. Girls are more likely to experience coercive sexting, and to respond negatively to requests for sexual photos. Practitioners and educators should focus prevention efforts on coercive forms of sexting, and consider the differential impact sexting may have on girls.