Parents Guide to Sexting: Dangers of Sexts and Facts About Sexting

Sexting can lead to cyberbullying"Sexting" - i.e. sending a compromising image or video to someone else - is a dangerous idea no matter your age, gender, or sexual orientation. Once you send such an image to someone, you have no real control over it. The person you sent it to could forward it to their friends or even post it online if your relationship sours. They could also be careless with their phone and lose it, or not have it locked with a passcode.

It might not even be the person that you send it to who accidentally leaks your sext. Imagine if you lost your phone or if someone hacked into it, are there images saved to your camera roll that you wouldn't want others getting their hands on?

Before you snap a photo or video and send it out to someone it's important to think about the potential consequences of doing so.


Facts About Sexting

  • Four percent of cell-owning teens (12-17 years old) have sent a sexually suggestive image of themselves or someone else.
  • Fifteen percent of teens have received a sexually suggestive image of someone they know through text or social media.
  • There is little gender variation related to the frequency of sexting, however teen girls often feel more pressured by boys to send sexts. 51% of teen girls who had sent sexts stated that they sent them due to pressure from a boy, whereas 18% of teen boys who sent sexual images said they did it due to pressure from a girl.
  • It's not just teens that sext, a number of politicians and celebrities have also had sexting scandals hit them. According to a survey by Harris Interactive, 40% of 18 to 34 year olds admitted to sexting and 10% of those surveyed who were over 55 years old admitted to sending sexts.
  • Teens could lose the most by sexting. Technically, having an explicit image of a minor is a crime even if it was the minor who took the photo or video. Sending the image or video out can be considered distribution of pornographic images of a minor. Both of these things are felonies and if prosecuted the teen who took and sent the photos could face jail time and be registered as a sex offender.

Sexting Laws

As of July 2015, only 20 states had sexting laws in place. Currently, there are 34 states plus the District of Columbia that have laws in place that address and protect revenge porn victims.

Revenge porn is the act of sharing any sort of sexually explicit content that is distributed without the knowledge or consent of the individuals who appear in the images or videos. Some victims of revenge porn may not even know that they've been targeted by an ex or a hacker until they run an online search of their name. Typically photos and videos are uploaded to revenge porn websites that charge yearly membership fees to users, making it so that people are profitting off of the violations of trust and privacy.

In turn many of these revenge porn sites also run reputation management sites and will offer to remove the images or videos for a price, sometimes upwards of $1,000. 

The table below shows more information on the sexting and revenge porn laws in each state.

State Sexting Law Under 18 Sending Policy Under 18 Receiving Policy Revenge Porn Law
Alabama No No No No
Alaska No No No Yes
Arizona Yes Yes Yes Yes
Arkansas Yes Yes Yes Yes
California No No No Yes
Colorado No No No Yes
Connecticut Yes Yes Yes Yes
Delaware No No No Yes
Florida Yes Yes Yes Yes
Georgia Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hawaii Yes Yes Yes Yes
Idaho No No No Yes
Illinois Yes Yes No Yes
Indiana No No No No
Iowa No No No No
Kansas No No No No
Kentucky No No No No
Louisiana Yes Yes Yes Yes
Maine No No No Yes
Maryland No No No Yes
Massachusetts No No No No
Michigan No No No Yes
Minnesota No No No Yes
Mississippi No No No No
Missouri No No No No
Montana No No No No
Nebraska Yes Yes Yes No
Nevada Yes Yes Yes Yes
New Hampshire No No No Yes
New Jersey Yes Yes Yes Yes
New Mexico No No No Yes
New York Yes Yes Yes Yes
North Carolina No No No Yes
North Dakota Yes Yes Yes Yes
Ohio No No No No
Oklahoma No No No Yes
Oregon No No No Yes
Pennsylvania Yes Yes Yes Yes
Rhode Island Yes Yes No No
South Carolina No No No No
South Dakota Yes Yes Yes No
Tennessee No No No Yes
Texas Yes Yes Yes Yes
Utah Yes Yes Yes Yes
Vermont Yes Yes Yes Yes
Virginia No No No Yes
Washington No No No Yes
Washington, D.C. No No No Yes
West Virginia Yes Yes Yes No
Wisconsin No No No Yes
Wyoming No No No No

For more information the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and give in-depth descriptions of the laws that are in each state.

How to Protect Yourself From Sexting

The best way to protect yourself from the potential nightmare of having sexual photos or videos leaked without your consent or knowledge, is to not take sexual photos and videos on your phone or computer.

You could have your property stolen or your accounts hacked which could leak information, or you could break up with the person you sent them to. You could even accidentally send them to the wrong person.

If you have sent explicit photos or videos in the past, ask that they be deleted by the recipient. If you run a search on your name online and find sexual content that was published without your consent you can have it removed from Google and Bing, two of the biggest search engines, by reporting the links.  In addition many social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr now have ways of reporting revenge porn cases.

It is important to make sure you take screenshots of the images and videos that were posted without your consent before they are removed. These screenshots can be used as evidence when filing a report with your local authorities.

How to Protect Your Teen From Sexting

Right now we are living in one of the biggest digital generation gaps. Individuals born in the mid-90s and later are digital natives, meaning that they were brought up during the age of widespread digital technology adoption. Children in this time period are referred to as Generation Z, Gen Z, or the iGeneration. They follow millenials, many of whom are also digital natives. 

Some parents may feel that they know what their teens are up to on social media, but they could be mistaken. Dazed has created a short documentary that examines teens and sexting, specifically focusing on Snapchat and the practice of sending images and videos through DMs (direct messages).

Snapchat has become a popular platform for sexting since photos and video clips are deleted after they're viewed, this isn't always the case though. Back in 2015, the Federal Trade Commission found that third-party apps could be used to log into the app and could be used to view and save snaps indefinitely, the deletion feature only worked on the official Snapchat app. This finding came about while the FTC was investigating a complaint that the app had been attacked by hackers and 4.6 million usernames and phone numbers had been compromised. Snapchat stated that they had addressed the concerns that the FTC had raised.

Even though these problems were addressed, there are still ways in which snaps can be saved. A recipient can screenshot a snap and save it to their camera roll, or they can record the snap with another device. Also snaps that are sent via Snapchat's chat feature can be saved by the recipient by pressing and holding it.

Today's parents of teenagers should discuss the dangers of sexting in order to help their children avoid the potential consequences. Teens who sext make themselves vulnerable to cyberbullying and sextortion, a form of cyberbullying that is now becoming more frequent.

Sextortion is the act of blackmailing a person by threatening to spread sexually explicit images and videos of them if they don't comply with demands. Victims of sextortion may be forced to send more sexually explicit images or perform sexual acts in order to avoid having their images shared. 

Thorn, which was founded in 2010 by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, is bringing together tech companies to fight the sexual exploitation of children online. One of the main issues that they seek to address is the growing problem of sextortion among teens. Thorn conducted a survey of sextortion victims aged 18-25 years old, they found that 60% of victims knew the perpetrator in person before the threats were made. The remaining 40% had met the perpetrator online.

Sextortion most frequently happens across platforms, with 45% of victims stating that they were targeted on multiple ways. The most common platform was social networks (54%), followed by messaging and photo apps (23%). 

The study conducted by Thorn and the Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC) found that one-in-four victims of sextortion needed the help of medical and mental health professionals, and that one-in-three victims did not tell anyone about the abuse due to shame and embarassment. It's important to build an open line of communication with your teen so that if they ever feel that a situation is out of their control they can come to you for help.

There have been many unfortunate and terrible stories of teens taking their lives after they've had nude photos and videos shared without their consent or knowledge. Many teens will feel that their life in these moments is completely out of their control and that they have no options. This is not true, and it's important that teens feel they can come to their parents for help in these types of situations.

In order to help your teen make sure they know the following:

  • Sexting is dangerous and can have negative effects on their social lives and also affect their chances of getting into the college of their choice and finding a job in the future. Having compromising images online hurts their online reputation.
  • If another person asks them to send them sexual photos or videos or asks them to let them take sexual photos or videos of them, say NO. 
  • If they've sent sexually explicit images or let someone take sexually explicit images that have been shared without their consent it's not their fault. There are ways to make the situation better and the impact of the situation will lessen over time.
    • They can start by asking the person who shared the images to delete it. 
    • They can report the images and abuse to the social media platform or search engine where the images are found.
    • If the situation doesn't improve, discuss reporting it to the school and local authorities. Be sure to document the abuse by taking screenshots that can be used as evidence.
  • If they are the victim of sextortion, this is illegal and must be reported to the local authorities. Document the demands of the person who is blackmailing your child by taking screenshots as evidence.

The most important way in which you can help your child is by making them feel safe in approaching you about the topic of sexting, cyberbullying, and sextortion. To learn more check out our guides on cyberbullying and cell phone safety. In addition, iKeepSafe has many helpful resources regarding cyberbullying and sexting.