In the focus groups, we found that teens’ attitudes towards sexting vary widely, from those who do not think it is a major issue to others who think it is inappropriate, “slutty,” potentially damaging or illegal. On one end of the spectrum are the teens who view sexting as a safer alternative to real life sexual activity.
- “No, [it’s not a big deal] we are not having sex, we are sexting,” wrote one 9th/10th grade boy. “It’s not against my religion or anything.”
- Another younger high school boy added: “Most people are too shy to have sex. Sexting is not as bad.”
- Another high school boy wrote “I know people think [sexting] is dangerous, but to me, it’s no big deal because I get them a lot.”
Other teens avoid it because of their concerns about legality and the potential for public release of the images.
- “I have never sent or received a picture involving nudity because I do know that it is illegal,” wrote an older high school girl. She continued, “Also, I think texting [sexually suggestive images] is too risky – a friend could take your phone and see it. That’s not something you want to be in public. And at my school you can get in trouble for it.”
Some teens brand these images, particularly images of girls, as inappropriate and make judgments about the people who appear in them. One older high school boy wrote,
- “This is commn only for girls with ‘slut’ reputations. They do it to attract attention.”
- A middle school girl had a similar concern: “I’ve been asked to send naked pics, but I think that’s stupid. You can ruin your reputation. Sometimes I wonder how girls can send naked pics to a boy. I think it’s gross. They’re disrespecting themselves.”
Teens make fine distinctions in what is acceptable and what is unacceptable in transmitted images.
- “I like classy girls so I don’t like [sexts] as much any more – it makes them look slutty,” wrote one younger high school boy. “But [it’s] not a big deal if [it’s] just a topless photo, but when it’s the bottom also it’s a lot more serious.”
Another middle school girl had a different view of the distinction between “slutty” and nude images. When asked if she had sent sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images of herself to someone else’s cell phone she wrote, “NEVER have and never will. I think I’ve only sent slutty pics but not naked.”
When teens in the focus groups were asked how common they believed sexting to be, the answers covered the spectrum, from infrequent to very common.
- “Sexting’s not common, but it does happen because girls want everyone to know they ‘look good,’” wrote one teen.
- “I think it’s not very common, but people do it”
- “[sexting’s] not common at my school, but I do know a handful of couples that do this.” [Emphasis hers].
Still, some teens believe sexting is quite prevalent. A high school girl wrote:
- “I think it’s fairly common in my school for people to do this. They see it as a way of flirting that may possibly lead to more for them.”
- One high school boy wrote that sexting happens a lot “because if someone is going out wit[h] a hot girl and she sends him a message with a picture, then everyone wants to see it.”
- A younger high school girl wrote, “Yes, [sexting is pretty common] cuz some of my friends do it. [But it’s] no big deal I would let my mom see if she wanted.”
- Another girl in the same focus group wrote, “yeah, it happens a lot, my friends do it all the time, but its not a big deal.”