Teenage boys and girls report experiencing media and peer pressure to share sexual images via mobile phones, a practice known as ‘sexting’.
Preliminary findings from a University of Melbourne study revealed young people believe a highly sexualised media culture bombarded them with sexualised images, creating pressure to engage in sexting.
The boys interviewed for the study also revealed the pressure they are under from other boys to have girls’ photos on their phones and computers. If they resisted being involved in ‘sexting’, they would be labeled ‘gay’ or could be ostracised from the peer group.
Girls experienced pressure from boyfriends or strangers to return sexual images. Girls also talked about the more subtle pressure to be involved in ‘sexting’, simply as a result of having viewed images of girls they know.
Both genders talked about being sent or shown images or videos, sometimes of people they knew or of pornography, without actually having agreed to look at it first.
Ms Shelley Walker from the Primary Care Research Unit in the Department of General Practice at the University of Melbourne said the study not only highlighted the pressure young people experienced to engage in ‘sexting’, it also revealed the importance of their voice in understanding and developing responses to prevent and deal with the problem.
“The phenomenon has become a focus of much media reporting; however research regarding the issue is in its infancy, and the voice of young people is missing from this discussion and debate,” she said.
Ms Walker said ‘sexting’ is a rapidly changing problem as young people keep up with new technologies such as using video and Internet via mobile phones.
The qualitative study involved 33 young people who were aged 15 to 20. The findings were presented to the 2011 Australasian Sexual Health Conference in Canberra.