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Sexting among adolescents

Licentiate thesis
Authors Jonas Burén
Date of public defense 2018-12-11
Opponent at public defense Gisela Priebe, Lunds Universitet
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Psychology
Language en
Keywords sexting, sexuality, adolescents, gender, internet, Bioecological model
Subject categories Psychology


The present thesis aim to examine Swedish adolescents’ experiences with sexting. As adolescents are in the midst of major developmental changes: physical, cognitive, and social ones, and in a period of sexual exploration, understanding of sexting among adolescents is important. Similar to other sexual activities, sexting is heavily influenced by the social context, for example family, peers and social norms. Although scientific research on adolescent sexting has burgeoned in recent years, several questions about adolescents’ sexting experiences remain unanswered, such as who adolescents primarily send sexts to, and what the social norms about sexting is among adolescents and their peers. Studies 1 and 2, included in this thesis, were used to address these issues. Also, with the indication that sexting is a gendered phenomenon, gender was a central theme in this thesis. In Study 1, a total of 1653 adolescents (mean age 14.20) answered a questionnaire. Results showed that, depending on who the sexting partner was, prevalence rates ranged from 4.4% to 16.0% for sending sext, and from 23.5% to 26.8% for receiving sexts. It was most common for participants to send sext to a romantic partner, and the least common was to a stranger. Girls had more negative experiences of sexting, and felt more pressure to send sexts. Importantly, and although boys’ experiences of sexting were more positive than were girls’, a substantial share of boys also reported having negative experiences. Age, puberty, online risk-taking, and peer- and family support, predicted sexting, but different patterns emerged depending on whom the sext was sent to, and depending on gender. In Study 2, 719 answers to an open-ended question focusing on adolescents’ perceptions of peer approval of sexting, were analyzed for content. The content analysis indicated that sexting could be seen as an acceptable activity given that certain circumstances were fulfilled, such as sexting within a romantic relationship or if both parties agree to sext. The adolescents also thought that girls were unfairly treated for sexting, that sexting held certain risks, and that some adolescents may engage in sexting for attention or pleasure. This thesis concluded with a discussion concerning the importance of considering who adolescent sext with, what risks may be perceived by some adolescents, and that sexting is a gendered and complex phenomenon that is heavily influenced by several factors around the adolescent.

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