New research on sexting among teens, is there a gender gap?

Sexting was was added to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary in August 2012 and could be described as ‘Involves sending sexually explicit messages and/or photographs, primarily between mobile phones using the SMS system.’ Sexting was first reported in 2005. 4% of mobile phone-owning teens claim to have sent sexually suggestive, nude or nearly nude images or videos of themselves to someone else via a mobile device while 15% claim to have received such material from someone they know. This new research looks at a possible gender gap regarding sexting.

From the press release:

With contract cell phones and cheaper multimedia messaging services it is easier and cheaper than ever to share information, images and other data. Ran Wei of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina and Ven-Hwei Lo of the School of Journalism and Communication of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, examined the effects of teen sexting that involves serious privacy and personal safety issues. One observer has suggested that the desire for risk-taking and sexual exploration among teens, coupled with a perpetual connection with peers via mobile telephony, creates a “perfect storm for sexting.”

The USC-Hong Kong team has now carried out a survey of 236 adolescents in the USA, the results of which reveal that teenagers believe sexting to cause more harm to other people than to themselves. Moreover, they also consider that sext messages subsequently posted to the Internet on social networking sites and elsewhere are more harmful than those messages that are shared en masse among a group of phone users. However, they also felt that consensual sexting between two people was less harmful.

The survey also revealed a strong gender gap with regards to third-person perception of sexting: both males and females believed other females were more harmed by sexting. This perception of girls, not boys, as the victims of sexting is perhaps a common theme in sexual culture and predates telecommunications by several centuries if not longer I’d say. The survey did reveal that this gender gap meant many respondents were willing to support restrictions on sexting, but those who participated in this activity were less keen on the application of restrictions.

Abstract of the research paper:

Sexting among teen mobile phone users is on the rise. This study examines adolescent mobile phone users’ perceptions of the harmful effect of consensual sexting between two people in a romantic relationship, mass-circulated sexting, and sexting posted on the internet. Results of a survey of 236 US adolescents showed that respondents believed sexting to have a greater harm on others than on themselves. Furthermore, the respondents perceived sexting messages posted to the internet as more harmful than mass-circulated sexting, which in turn were more harmful than consensual sexting between two people. Additionally, we found a gendered effect of the third-person perception of sexting – both males and females believed other females were more harmed by sexting. This perception of girls, not boys, as the victims of sexting predicts willingness to support restrictions on sexting. On the other hand, the more respondents sexted, the less willing they were to support such restrictions.

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