What is Sexting?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Sexting is a practice in which people exchange sexually explicit material with each other via cell phone. This material can include racy text messages and images which may vary from simple boudoir shots to depictions of sex acts. When public attention was drawn to sexting in 2005, many people expressed concern about the commonality of the practice among teens. Some critics have suggested that the claims about sexting among teens are overblown, and that the practice may not be as common or as damaging as the media has made it out to be.

The exchange of sexually explicit material via cell phones is known as sexting.
The exchange of sexually explicit material via cell phones is known as sexting.

Both teens and adults can engage in sexting, but people are primarily concerned about the exchange of sexually explicit material between minors, or between minors and adults. Many nations have laws regarding lewd conduct which can be applied to sexting, such as child pornography laws which prohibit the distribution of nude pictures of minors. While exchanges of explicit material between two people is not a major concern as long as the images are not passing between a minor and an adult, the material can easily be passed on to others, including adults who cannot legally possess sexually explicit images of minors.

Sexting occurs more with younger cellphone users.
Sexting occurs more with younger cellphone users.

Several legal cases have involved sexting, ranging from a case in which a principal was prosecuted for having sexually explicit images of minors in his phone to cyberbullying cases in which images meant for one person were distributed to a large group of people with deliberate intent to humiliate. Because many youths have cell phones, sexting can often dovetail with bullying, as when an angry ex-boyfriend or girlfriend mass distributes images and messages which were exchanged during the relationship.

Sexting can create instances of bullying and low self-esteem if not done with discretion.
Sexting can create instances of bullying and low self-esteem if not done with discretion.

Sexuality among teens is a cause for concern for a number of reasons, ranging from exploitation to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Precocious sexual behavior is not always accompanied by emotional maturity, and sexting can become explosive when it is mixed with teen emotions such as jealousy, vengeance, and low self esteem. For this reason, a number of advocacy organizations have conducted studies on the practice in an attempt to learn more about it, and educational campaigns have been launched to discourage sexting among underage teens.

People caught sexting often become the subject of gossip.
People caught sexting often become the subject of gossip.

Claims about how many teens engage in this behavior vary widely, as do claims about the effects of sexting on teenage populations. The issue highlights the problems which technology can introduce to society, as early adopters like youths are often quick to come up with creative and sometimes unsavory uses for technology before adults realize the potential implications of such technology. Now that camera phones are ubiquitous and cell phone usage among youths is widely accepted, it's impossible to return to a more innocent prior era of passing old-fashioned notes in class.

Sexting is common for professionals who are away from their partner during business trips.
Sexting is common for professionals who are away from their partner during business trips.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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