For a lot of young people, sexting seems like harmless fun or a flirty way to connect with a boyfriend or girlfriend. But for some, most notably young girls, it can have grave consequences. In a recent study from the University of Texas, researchers found that nearly 30% of teens are sexting and more than half have been asked to send a naked picture to someone. Although sexting is common, almost all of the girls surveyed were bothered at least a little by the request for an explicit photo and more than one-quarter were bothered a lot, even though many still sent it.
The girls who sexted were more likely to have had sex. Those same girls also engaged in risky sex, such as having multiple partners or using drugs or alcohol before sex. In another study of high school students in Cleveland, researchers found that teens who text at least 120 times a day are three and a half times more likely to have sex than teens who text less often.
Pressure to Bare All
Why are girls sexting if they don’t really want to and why does it lead to sex? Some believe it’ll lead to popularity; others enjoy the thrill of risk-taking. But for many, it boils down to peer pressure. In a poll by MTV/Associated Press, nearly half of the youth surveyed who shared sexually suggestive pictures felt pressure to do so. While sending an explicit photo may seem innocent enough at first, it can send the message that a girl is willing to take the relationship to the next level, often before she is emotionally ready. What’s worse, a girl may be labeled a tease if she doesn’t follow through.
Even if a real relationship materializes and seems to be based on mutual caring and respect, many young women have been shocked and humiliated when those explicit photos were circulated to friends, girls at school, parents, and other authority figures. Some images end up on the Internet, where those images are almost impossible to remove and can be accessed for years to come. Reputations are tarnished, as are the chances of earning certain honors at school, scholarships, admission to prestigious colleges, and even future career opportunities.
When the Consequences Outweigh the Fun
Sexting is a personal choice, one that should only be made after considering all of the potential consequences. Having sex before you’re ready or engaging in risky sex can have lifelong ramifications, but sexting has also led to other serious problems, including extortion, victimization by predators, child pornography charges, and placement on the sex offender registry. In addition, there’s an increased risk of depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, and suicide.
If you’re not sure how to handle a request for a sext, talk to a parent, therapist or another trusted adult. If you’re faced with any type of threat or the sexts keep coming, talk to a parent or lawyer right away. If you receive a sext, delete it and don’t send it to anyone else or you could be charged with distributing child pornography. And don’t feel obligated to reciprocate, even if it’s from a person you’re interested in dating. If that person really likes you for you, he won’t need a sext to stay interested.
Sexting is one of the media’s favorite topics to sensationalize, but the reality is that sexting poses some real threats. Sexting might make you more popular or help you “win” the guy right now, but if any of these lifelong consequences result, is it really worth it?
Images courtesy of Madamenoire.com, Ouroutofsynclife.blogspot.com
Dr. Carolyn Ross is an internationally known physician, author and speaker on addictions, obesity and eating disorders. She serves as a consultant to The Ranch’s eating disorder treatment program in Tennessee, maintains a private practice in Denver, is the author of The Binge Eating and Compulsive Overeating Workbook: An Integrated Approach to Overcoming Disordered Eating as well as The Joy of Eating Well and also hosts a weekly radio show, The Vital Life.