Social Media Sex: Exploitation or Everlasting Love?

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Objectives: This research seeks to examine the different circumstances under which “sexting,” or sending nude or sexual photos, occurs. Sexting with positive and negative outcomes will be compared.

Methods: A study of 500 adolescents was conducted in 2016-2017 through an anonymous survey. Subjects were asked about their sexting behaviors and the circumstances surrounding these behaviors, as well as their mental health, dating behaviors, and peer relationships (both online and offline). Data were also gathered on how youth manage their perceived risks regarding sexting behaviors, and key factors (such as frequency of reported sexting) were compared between this study in 2016 and similar studies conducted in 2012-2015.

Results: According to recent research findings, most sexters reported no outcomes or consequences after sexting. This includes both positive outcomes (such as achieving a new relationship, becoming more popular, or being admired) and negative outcomes (such as depression, social rejection or humiliation, harassment or bullying, or problems with adults). Yet most subjects reported being warned about dire consequences during high school programs about sexting. Still, whereas most sexting did not appear to be either high-risk or with negative outcomes, it is important to note the exceptions. First, many sexters reported regret or “feeling worse” after having sexted. Second, some sexters did engage in high-risk sexting (sexting with individuals whom they did not know well). These sexters were far more likely to regret sexting with negative outcomes. Sexters who sent photos within already-established relationships were far less likely to report any negative outcomes. Some social norms, such as the specific social media platform used for different types of sexting, did emerge in the data.

Conclusions: Sexting appears to be a behavior that is linked to adolescent sexual behaviors. It may be safer than in-person sex in some ways, although it may carry higher risks in other ways. The possibility that photos will later impact one's life is always possible, although the risk of that happening is also unknown. It is important to understand the factors that lead youth to engage in high-risk types of sexting.

Original Citation

Englander, E. (2017). Social Media Sex: Exploitation or Everlasting Love? Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 56(10, supplement), S91. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2017.07.357