Sending a cell phone messageSexting is a colloquialism used to refer to the sending of sexually explicit items, particularly photos and videos, via text message. Due to widespread cell phone use, sexting is becoming increasingly common among both adults and teens.

Though the types of messages consenting adults send to each other generally are not subject to scrutiny, when underage teens send sexts, even to their peers, these messages can be considered child pornography.

What Is Sexting?

While sexting is generally considered to be the transmission of sexually explicit images in which the subject is nude or only partially clothed, it also includes the sending of flirtatious, explicit, or “not safe for work” written messages and recordings.

Although sexting can be a harmless way to connect sexually with a long-distance partner or communicate during time apart, these types of messages can become harmful in the wrong circumstances. The recipient of a photo or video could easily forward it without the sender’s knowledge or consent, with potentially devastating effects. Sexting can also quickly become harassment, if a recipient does not wish to receive sexually explicit images and the sender will not respect the recipient’s wishes.

Sending sexually explicit messages can also have embarrassing consequences. One study reports that as many as 10% of mobile phone users have sent a sext to the wrong person by mistake. And teenagers who sext may not completely understand the ease with which their suggestive photo can be shared with others, or the permanency of such images.

Sexting and Teenagers

Teenage sexting is a topic that has received significant media attention in recent years, and although the general consensus seems to support the discouragement of sexting among teenagers, a new study suggests teen sexting may simply be a new first step in teenage sexual development. Though teens who sext were found to be more likely to engage in sexual activity a year later, researchers found that sexting did not seem to lead to risky sexual behavior, such as having multiple partners or having intercourse under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Although sexting does not necessarily lead to sexual activity, parents still might wish to use the topic to have a broader discussion about healthy and safe sexual activity.

Although some consider teenage sexting to be little more than a new expression of sexuality made possible by technological advances, in some states, sexting between teens is actually a felony. Even when teens who are above the age of consent and in a relationship share photos, they can still be prosecuted for the possession of child pornography. In the states of Virginia and Washington, for example, a minor involved in consensual sexting faces felony charges and must register as a sex offender. This includes the individual in the picture, the sender of the picture, and any recipients of the picture, whether they wanted to receive it or not.

Some people argue such prosecutions serve as an example of laws not keeping up with technology, as a photo shared between a consenting couple is not an exploitative act. However, parents might wish to have a discussion with their teen about any possible penalties sexting might have.

Why Do People Sext?

Sexting can provide a sexual outlet that may rekindle a faltering romantic relationship. It also can be a way for people who are not verbally emotive to communicate feelings and desires to a partner. People involved in long-distance relationships may sext as a way to foster intimacy with their partners, and those in casual relationships or who are just beginning a relationship might use sexting as a first sexual step in the relationship.

Though sexting can often be a component of healthy sexuality, the practice still raises concerns about privacy. When relationships end, especially if they end badly, one partner may send embarrassing images to friends or post them online. Some teens may sext due to peer pressure from their friends: A study found 61% of teens who had sent nude photos had been pressured to do so, and 17% of teens who received sexts shared them with at least one person.

In some cases, sexting can be used as a form of bullying or intimidation, especially among teens. Sexting can be considered both cyberbullying and a form of sexual assault when sexts of a non-consenting partner are taken and distributed. Some people might also send sexually explicit images to a non-consenting partner, which is not only considered harassment, but may also indicate an underlying mental health or behavioral health concern.


  1. 1 in 9 Mobile Users ‘Sext’ Parent Or Friend By Mistake. (2012, April 18). Retrieved from
  2. 11 Facts about Sexting. (2014, April 15). Retrieved from
  3. Alseth, B. (2010, September 24). Sexting and the Law-Press Send to Turn Teenagers into Registered Sex Offenders. Retrieved from
  4. Gray, E. (2012, April 20). Adult Sexting: Does It Help Or Hurt Relationships? Retrieved from
  5. Culp-Ressler, T. (2014, October 7). Why Parents Should Stop Freaking Out About Teens Sexting. Retrieved from

Last Updated: 01-29-2016

  • Leave a Comment
  • Anjali


    June 20th, 2017 at 12:00 AM

    Very informative article. One of my friend is having this issue. He all the time does this.verbal communication is almost zero. If anyone communicates with him he listens half version of it. Don’t know how to tackle this issue.

  • Amy L.

    Amy L.

    March 27th, 2019 at 6:17 AM

    In the context of a therapeutic relationship with a minor, does sexting fall under the category of imminent risk such that you would be required to break confidentiality?

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