Girls experience sexting more negatively than boys

July 30, 2018 - 06:05

A new study finds that Swedish boys and girls have very different reactions to sexually explicit texts. One researcher thinks this is very disheartening.

Teenaged girls in a Swedish study had a far stronger negative reaction to sexual pictures and messages than boys. (Illustration photo: Banu Sevim / Shutterstock / NTB scanpix)

By now, unless you live in a cave, you know that adults aren’t the only ones who use smart phones to send sexually explicit messages and pictures — teens also engage in this practice, called sexting.

Just under 15 per cent of Swedish children between the ages of 12 and 16 said they had sent these types messages or images to others, according to a new study. More than 30 per cent of young people in this age group had received sex-related messages. And the older they were, the greater the likelihood was that they had been sexting. 

Researchers from the University of Gothenburg said the clearest difference in their study was between how girls and boys experienced sexting. Girls more often than boys are sent sexual messages and images from strangers. They also feel more pressured to participate in sexting, according to a press release from the University of Gothenburg.

And while boys who had a lot of experience with sexting often perceived the experience positively, girls did not.

"We knew that both girls and boys send sexually explicit texts, but it was very disheartening that girls' experience of this was so much more negative than boys," says Carolina Lunde, who led the study.

Both boys and girls can feel pressured

"It is clear that conditions for girls and boys are still different, which also affects their ability to explore their sexuality online," she says.

At the same time, she emphasized that it’s not just girls who are uncomfortable with sexting.

"We should not forget that a significant proportion of boys have also had negative experiences or feel that they are being pressured. That is something we rarely hear about,” Lunde said.

A 2016 study of teens aged 14 to 17 years old from several European countries, including Norway, showed that both boys and girls had negative experiences with sexting.

Girls in England and Norway had the most negative experiences of all teens in the study when it came to the exchange of sexual messages and pictures.

Relationship between sexting and violence
Per Moum Hellevik studies violence and aggression on digital media. (Photo: NKVTS)

Another study of nearly 1,000 Norwegian youths between the ages of 14 and 17 indicated that those who send text and video messages with sexual content are more prone to violence in their romantic relationships than teens who didn’t send these kinds of messages.

This study also showed how digital media was used to control romantic partners. One of the researchers behind the Norwegian study was Per Moum Hellevik, who is a PhD candidate at the Norwegian Center for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies. Hellevik was not surprised by the results of the new Swedish study.

One reason why girls more often than boys report negative consequences from sexting may be because there is likely a greater risk that girls' nude pictures will be spread online and inside their social networks, he wrote in an email.

Other studies have shown that boys often send uninvited naked images, thus putting pressure on girls to send a picture back.

This probably means that there’s a smaller risk for boys of sending nude pictures because they are less likely to spread online, Hellevik believes. He said, however, that he does not have specific numbers for how many nude pictures are shared by girls compared to boys.

"At the same time, it is likely that there are some old gender assumptions involved here, where girls are quickly regarded as ‘sluts’ or ‘whores’ if they send pictures, while boys escape this label,” he said.

But, he added, as the Swedish research showed, boys are not totally removed from all negative consequences of sexting, and for some, it is as difficult as it is for girls.

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no.

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