What is sexting? “Sexting” is the combination of two words: “sex” and “texting”. Originally, people used text messages to send sexually explicit messages but that has now been mostly replaced by more modern methods of communication such as personal messages (such as Facebook Messenger) and instant messages (such as Snapchat).
According to childline:
When people talk about sexting, they usually mean sending and receiving:
- Naked pictures or ‘nudes’
- Partially clothed or ‘underwear shots’
- Sexual or ‘dirty pics’
- Rude text messages or videos.
Sexting includes sexually explicit textual messages or graphic images (photos and videos) or a combination of both or video calls (such as Skype).
They can be sent using mobiles, tablets, smartphones, laptops – any device that allows you to share media and messages. They can be sent to or from a friend, boyfriend, girlfriend or someone you’ve met online. Sexting can easily happen. Things can go wrong – even when you didn’t mean them to.
A common reason for sexting is to “trade” sexually explicit material. This can lead to a false sense of security since you may think that trading sexual messages or photos means that the other person will not abuse your trust.
What are the risks of sexting?
Sexting is not illegal when it takes place between consenting adults and the material is not obscene. It is always illegal when it involves one or more minors (anyone under the age of 18). There are also special circumstances that make it illegal even when it takes place between consenting adults (such as sexting between a teacher and a pupil, irrespective of the age of the pupil).
Creating or sharing explicit images of a minor is illegal, even if the person doing this is a minor. A young person is breaking the law if they:
- take an explicit photo or video of themselves or a friend
- share an explicit image or video of a child, even if it’s shared between children of the same age
- possess, download or store an explicit image or video of a child, even if the child gave their permission for it to be created.
It is easy to think that sexting between a boyfriend and girlfriend is harmless. But there is no control of images and how they’re shared. It’s easy to send a photo or message but, once sent, the sender has no control about how it’s used.
When images are stored or shared online they become public. Some people may think that images and videos only last a few seconds on social media and then they’re deleted, but they can still be saved or copied by others. This means that photos or videos, which a young person may have shared privately, could still end up being shared.
Blackmail, bullying and harm
Some may think ‘sexting’ is harmless but it can lead to them becoming victims of:
- Blackmail – Threats to share the pictures with family and friends unless money or more images are sent.
- Bullying – If images are shared with others or in school, they may be bullied.
- Unwanted attention – Images posted online can attract the attention of sex offenders, who know how to search for, collect and modify images
- Emotional distress – Young people can feel embarrassed and humiliated. If they’re very distressed this could lead to self-harm or suicide.
- You have no control over what happens to photos and videos once they are sent.
- Photos and videos can last forever – long after you and the other person have lost contact.
- You put yourself at risk of blackmail and bullying whenever you share sexually explicit material.
If you have sent a nude picture, talk to the person you sent it to. Ask them to delete it. If an indecent or nude picture of you is posted online, you can contact the website, such as Facebook or YouTube to have it removed. You can contact the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) about any criminal content online to have it removed. Further advice can be obtained from CEOP or Childline