Sexting Research Featured in New York Times, CBS News

Sexting Research Featured in New York Times, CBS News

Worried teenSchools and parents commonly tell teenagers not to send sexualized selfies. “But why don’t we tell adolescents to stop asking for nude photos from one another?” psychologist Lisa Damour asked in the New York Times.

Citing newly-published research by School of Education and Social Policy doctoral student Sara Thomas, Damour called for parents to establish rules that can “serve as useful behavioral speed bumps” in her piece, “Teenagers, Stop Asking for Nude Photos.”

Thomas analyzed nearly 500 stories on an anti-cyberbullying and sexting campaign's website and found that more than two-thirds of girls between ages 12 and 18 said they had been asked for explicit images. The girls reported persistent requests, anger, and threats from boys to send those pictures, she said.

Rules can help shift norms about soliciting images and address power imbalances that suggest that boys typically play offense and girls play defense, Damour argued.

“If we really don’t want teenagers to send sexualized photos, we should set limits on the most likely trigger for sexting: requests,” Damour wrote.  “That our focus has been so preponderantly on the sending, not requesting, of sexts underscores the exact problem we need to address.”

Still, adults shouldn't necessarily rely on rules such as 'don’t sext,' and 'don’t ask for sexual images' in place of teaching young people— boys and girls— how to create mutually beneficial, respectful, loving relationships, Thomas said.

Parents often tell their children not to share nude photos even with someone they care about and trust because doing so puts them in a terrible position. The relationship could end, the phone could be lost and it's not worth the risk. "To that, we should add, "And it's not OK to request naked pictures because then you are putting someone else in a terrible position. Don't do that either," Damour wrote.

Using this approach can be effective with young people because "it avoids the common pitfalls of dramatizing adolescent sexuality or shaming young women for sending photographs," Thomas said.

"Damour's commentary about gender power imbalances is absolutely critical and often ignored in conversations about sexting," Thomas added. "Telling boys not to ask for photographs should not supersede more substantial conversations about the difference between asking for consent and pressuring girls into unwanted sexual acts."

Thomas is a doctoral student in the human development and social policy program. Read more about her research. 

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By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 3/5/18