New analysis published at the end of 2017 sheds some light on the motivations and fears surrounding the willingness of teen girls to engage in sexting.
The study, published by Northwestern University, analyzed nearly 500 accounts written by girls between the ages of 12 and 18 from 2010 to 2016 on a website called A Thin Line, a campaign against sexting, cyberbullying, and digital dating abuse.
The study’s author, Northwestern doctoral student Sara Thomas, found that more than two-thirds of the girls in the study reported being asked by a boy for an explicit photograph.
The requests often came with affection, coercion, and threats.
“I’ve been asked multiple times by my boyfriends and/or guy friends to send a nude pic,” said one girl from the study. “Every time I decline, I either get harassed for it, insulted, or they just flat out ignore/break up with me. I guess keeping your morals makes you a bad person?”
Many girls reported feeling “overwhelmed, confused, tired, bombarded, and trapped” by requests, according to Thomas. Many eventually gave in, something Thomas called “consensual but unwanted” sexting. But once sent, the pictures then held them captive.
“I sent my boyfriend a naked pic after he insisted and was going to break up with me,” wrote one girl. “Now he is threatening to send it to everyone if I don’t have sex with him. I’m only 15.”
Thomas concluded adults are not talking to their daughters about sexting or helping them navigate these situations: “Online spaces reduce the barriers like curfews and family surveillance that may limit in-person sexual interaction.”
But she also faulted teachers and parents for often unknowingly pushing the idea that it is always the girl’s job to say no without holding young men responsible for their actions.
In addition to helping girls understand why not to send explicit photos, parents need to start talking to boys about why they shouldn’t request them, wrote psychologist and author Lisa Damour in a New York Times article on Thomas’s study: “If we really don’t want teenagers to send sexualized photos, we should set limits on the most likely trigger for sexting: requests.”
— by Kiley Crossland