Sexting for ‘insurance’ [, by Rosemarie Lentini, 31/3/2011]

Teenagers are exchanging explicit photos of themselves as a form of “insurance” to stop their photos being circulated. Source: AFP

TEENAGERS are exchanging explicit photos of themselves as a form of “insurance” to stop their pictures being circulated via mobile phones.

A two-year research project into sexting – sending sexually explicit messages, photos or videos via text message – shows adolescents are blackmailing each other with nude photos to protect themselves from their own increasingly risky behaviour.

Researcher Nina Funnell has spoken to hundreds of youths aged between 15 and 18 about sexting habits.

Ms Funnell said “sexting” had become an accepted part of adolescent dating culture.

“The common idea is young people are doing this as a response to pressure or they’re brainwashed by popular culture,” she said.

“Young people don’t say this. What I hear is it’s about flirtation and pleasure and exploring their sexuality.”

Teen sexting experiences shared with Ms Funnell include:

A year 11 high school student who sent a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend on condition he send one of himself – an “insurance photo” – in case they broke up and he used it against her.

A 16-year-old boy who was shocked when a girl sent an explicit photo of herself to get his attention.

Year 10 private school boys were asked by a year 10 female student from another school to send nude photos for a “league table”.

Deakin University psychology professor Marita McCabe said teenagers had always “pushed the barriers” when exploring sexuality – now they were incorporating technology.

“We would need to be careful about criminalising something that is consensual and not exploitative,” Prof McCabe said.

“There’s no question that as adolescents, boys and girls go through a process of exploring their sexuality and it’s important that they feel comfortable with their sexuality and to explore in a consensual way how their body operates.”