What is sexting?

Sexting among teenagers has emerged as a trend that concerns parents and educators. Sexting refers to the sending of sexual photographs via mobile phone or computer.

The concern mainly revolves around a) young people potentially creating illegal child pornography material with legal consequences, and b) private photos being susceptible to blackmail.

How common is sexting among teenagers?

One of the most methodologically sound studies on the subject revealed that the percentage of teenagers who have appeared in nude or semi-nude photographs in the last year is 2.5%.

In this category, most young people referred to photos of themselves in swimwear or underwear, and poses with clothes on. However, the percentage dropped to 1% when asked about appearing in photos showing bare breasts or genitals, with explicit sexual content.

Regarding receiving such photos, the percentage was higher – around 6%. About 25% of teens who had sexted reported feeling particularly worried and embarrassed, although it had occurred more than once.

Furthermore, in very few cases, the photos were shared or posted. The most common reasons for sexting were a) eroticism within a relationship, and b) “for fun”.

This study indicates that sexting is not as widespread as believed, as only a small percentage of teenagers participate. Nevertheless, it is imperative to educate young people about the potential legal and social consequences of possessing and sharing such material.

Mitchell KJ, Finkelhor D, Jones LM et al. (2012) Prevalence and characteristics of youth sexting: a national study. Pediatrics 129:13-20.


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