Technology has wedged itself into every aspect of our lives, and that includes our sex lives. It’s also become our go-to tool for self-expression. Put these things together, and you get the modern trend of sexting; an often misunderstood phenomenon that gets a lot of media attention.
What is sexting?
The term “sexting” has been used to describe many things, but in it’s purest sense it involves someone taking pictures of themselves either naked or various stages of undress or in sexually explicit and provocative poses, and then sharing these pictures with others by posting them online or sending them to someone in an electronic mess
Young people pioneered this trend, and they continue to be its most ardent practitioners. Youth sexting is often misrepresented as solely a teen issue, but prepubescent children do it too, often starting in the later grades of elementary school.
How many kids are sexting? The statistics on youth sexting
The general consensus is that around 20% of adolescents have sent or posted a nude picture of themselves online, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. (Wenner-Moyer, 2011) Another national survey found that 22% of teenage girls have sexting their own picture.
In another survey, 44% of teen boys said they’ve seen at least one nude photo of a female classmate either online or via cellphone. (Time, 4-13-2009, p. 13) One school principle says he suspects that a random ransacking of the phones in his school would reveal “indecent” pictures on half to two-thirds of them. (Gibbs, 3-16-2009)
Yet even these numbers don’t quite tell the full story. The probability of sexting increases with age. So these statistics would be a lot higher among older teens. Moreover, many children and teens take such pictures without actually sharing them. In fact, nefarious actors will often resort to hacking if they aren’t successful in getting a teen to share such photos on their own, since the odds are pretty good their target will have a nude photo (or several) stored somewhere on their accounts. (Clifford, 2021)So if your daughter is 14 or older, you can pretty much assume she’s taken racy photos of herself at one time or another even if she never kept or shared them.
Sexting Among Younger Kids
The sexting trend isn’t restricted to adolescents. It can start quite early, even as young as 7 or 8. One survey revealed that 12% of kids in grades 4-6 of elementary school are sexting. (ABC World News, 12-13-2008) Another study found six percent of sexting students say they began the practice at age nine. (Jayson, 5-14-2009)
More recently a study by Thorn found that around one in seven children ages 9 to 12 had shared their own nude photos within the past year. (The Week, 1-21-2022, p.16)
Kids sexting strangers
When kids sext, usually they are sending their picture to someone they know, either someone they’re in a relationship with or someone they have a romantic interest in. Yet more baffling (and alarming) to parents is that 11% of teens say they have sent sexually explisite pictures of themselves to total strangers. (Leinwand, 6-24-2009) Why would they do such a thing, you might wonder? Though such behavior certainly baffles adults, it’s not as incomprehensible as it might first appear, and we explore these reasons in detail in our section on why kids sext.