Are teens under pressure to be sexting?

Taylor & Francis

New research studying the pressures of sexting on adolescents has found that friends and romantic partners are the main source of social pressure, outweighing adolescents’ own attitudes. This research examines the principal drivers of sexting, and suggests areas for educators to focus upon in order to highlight the potential risks involved in sexting.

The paper ‘Under pressure to sext? Applying the theory of planned behaviour to adolescent sexting’, by Michel Walrave, Wannes Heirman & Lara Hallam, published in Behaviour & Information Technology, studied the beliefs, social pressures, and predictors of sexting in adolescents.

Sexting is defined as the sharing of sexually explicit text messages or naked/semi-naked self-pictures using mobile phones. 26% of the teens surveyed had engaged in sexting in the two months preceding the survey.

Adolescents revealed that they sext for attention, to lower the chances of catching STDs, and to find a romantic partner. The concepts of receiving a bad reputation, or of being blackmailed, did not appear to influence their motivations. The authors note that “Remarkably, only the behavioural beliefs that expected positive outcomes of sexting were significant in predicting adolescents’ willingness to engage in it”.

Friends and romantic partners were found to be the only significant social pressures that affect an individual’s motivation to sext: “The more positive the perceived social pressure that originates from these two categories of referents – who mostly belong to the peer group – the more adolescents will be inclined to engage in sexting”. Negative pressures from parents and teachers did not affect motivations.

Adolescents were most likely to sext if they had complete trust in the recipient. Likewise, a lack of trust would have a significantly adverse effect. In addition, the more positive social pressure they had from romantic partners, the more they were inclined to sext. The belief that parents would monitor their mobile phones was not significant to the study group.

The researchers’ findings confirm that: “Rather than adapting their motivations to sext to their own subjective evaluations, adolescents are influenced relatively more by the social pressure that they anticipate receiving from significant others.” Girls had a more negative attitude towards sexting than boys, and experience more negative social pressure to sext than boys do.

The research concludes: “Our results suggest that in order to reduce sexting among adolescents, preventive initiatives should allude to what significant others in teenagers’ lives think about them engaging in sexting”.

The researchers offer more specific ideas for targets and intervention for policy makers and educators:

  • Awareness-raising initiatives focusing on peer pressure and the acceptability of sexting
  • Integrating the topic of sexting in adolescents’ sexual education
  • Opportunities for young people to engage in discussions
  • Teaching adolescents how to cope with the pressure

The study surveyed 498 adolescents aged between 15 and 18 years. It used the predictive value of personal attitudes, subjective norm and perceived behavioral control by applying the theory of planned behavior (individual's behavior is directly determined by his/her intention to perform that behavior).


Please reference the article as ‘Under pressure to sext? Applying the theory of planned behaviour to adolescent sexting’, by Michel Walrave, Wannes Heirman & Lara Hallam, Behaviour & Information Technology, published by Taylor & Francis.

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