Teenage sexting is on the rise, and most teens in a new survey agree that the consequences are worse for girls.
"Sexting," the sending of sexually explicit text messages or images via SMS mobile devices, has become so pervasive in our wired culture that the term was added to the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary in August 2012.
According to the L.A. Times, up to 25 percent of the American population sends sext messages, and up to 35 percent receives them. A recent study suggests that up to 40 percent of teenagers have been sexting, and almost 50 percent reported receiving sexually explicit test messages.
A new survey of American adolescents, conducted by Ran Wei of the University of South Carolina and Ven-Hwei Lo of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, looked at teenage sexting consequences involving privacy and personal safety issues.
236 teenagers answered the survey, which revealed a remarkable gap in perceptions of which gender faced worse teenage sexting consequences. Both male and female respondents believed that females were harmed more by sexting.
This is not surprising- American sexual culture in general tends to have worse consequences for females, with a double standard that treats the exposure of female sexuality more harshly than that of the male. Mobile devices merely advance a preexisting perception of girls as victims of sexual norms.
"When girls sext, they're accused of publicizing their sexuality to attract attention," wrote Amanda Hess on Slate. "When boys do it, they're assumed to be courting a sex partner (however ineffectively) one on one. That double standard persists even though, according to the study, boys were almost twice as likely as girls to publicly post their own nude photos online."
The teenagers also believed that sexting consequences are worse for others than they are for themselves, and that sext messages posted online are more harmful than those circulated en masse among a group of cell phone users. On the other hand, they thought that consensual sexting between two people was less harmful, despite the risk of those messages being shared with others and forwarded to a larger group.
Teenage sexting consequences can include psychological distress if the messages are exposed to a wider public than the intended recipient. Sexting has received much media attention in recent years, with many lawsuits and even suicides following the exposure of nude photos.
"When sexting is no longer confined to two people in a romantic relationship, to be vulnerable to sexting implies that sext messages may end up in the hands of predators and have a long-term harm on a teen sexter's future," said the study authors in a statement.
Many of the survey respondents were in favor of restrictions on sexting, although the more teenagers sexted, the less likely they were to support restrictions.
It's difficult to see how such restrictions would be enforced, since sexting is usually a voluntary expression of teenage sexual exploration. Most young people believe that sexting is a normal part of dating.
Hess suggests that teenagers who nonconsensually forward sexually explicit photos should face more serious sexting consequences, since the teenagers actually exposed in forwarded images typically do not mean for them to reach a wide audience.