One in Five Teens Sends Sexually Explicit Images

January 6, 2009

This article is included in these additional categories:

Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Email | Privacy & Security | Telecom | Youth & Gen X

One in five teen girls (22%), nearly as many teen boys (18%) and one-third (33%) of young adults say they have electronically sent, or posted online, nude or semi-nude photographic or video images of themselves, according to a survey by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and


The “Sex & Tech” research (pdf),? which was conducted online among 1,280 teens (age 13-19) and young adults (age 20-26), also finds that both males and females in these age groups send even higher numbers of sexually suggestive? text or email messages than they do nude/semi-nude images. Nearly half of young people (49% total, 39% of teens, 59% of young adults) have sent sexually suggestive messages to someone else.


Among teens who have sent sexually suggestive content, 15% say they have done so with someone they only know online.

On the receiving end of the messages, 48% of teens and 64% of young adults (56% total) say they have gotten a sexually suggestive message from someone else. Among young teen girls (age 13-16), one-third have received such messages.

The research also finds that sexually suggestive images are frequently passed around and shown to friends: One-third (33%) of teen boys and one-fourth(25%) of teen girls say they have had nude/semi-nude images–originally intended to be private–shared with them.

Online Mirrors Real Life

What teens and young adults are doing electronically seems to have an effect on what they do in real life, the survey found. Nearly one-quarter of teens (22%) say that technology makes them personally more forward and aggressive. Moreover, more than one-third of teens (38%) say exchanging sexy content makes dating or hooking up with others more likely, and nearly one-third of teens (29%) believe those exchanging sexy content are “expected” to date or hook up.

Additional survey findings:

  • 11% of yojng teen girls ages 13-16 years old have electronically sent, or posted online, nude or semi-nude images of themselves.
  • 36% of young women (age 20-26) and 31% of young men have done the same.
  • Teen girls who have sent or posted sexually suggestive content provide a number of reasons why:
    • Two-thirds (66%) say they did so to be “fun or flirtatious.
    • Half (52%) did so as a “sexy present” for their boyfriend,
    • 40% sent them as a “joke.”
  • Although? nearly three-quarters of young people (73% total, 75% of teens, 71% of young adults) say that sending sexually suggestive content can have serious negative consequences, nearly one-fourth (22% total, 19% of teens and 26% of young adults) say sending sexually suggestive content is “no big deal.”

“That so many young people say technology is encouraging an even more casual, hook-up culture is reason for concern, given the high rates of teen and unplanned pregnancy in the United States,” said Marisa Nightingale, senior advisor to the Entertainment Media Program at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “Parents should understand that their own notions of what’s public, what’s private, and what’s appropriate, may differ greatly from how teens and young adults define these concepts.”

About the survey: The survey was conducted online by TRU. At present, it is estimated that about 90% of teens and young adults are online. Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have volunteered to participate in TRU’s online surveys. Respondents were stratified according to the US Census and the data have been weighted to reflect the demographic composition of teens and young adults.

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