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Sexting is defined as the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos electronically, primarily between mobile phones. The word is a combination of the words sex + texting.

It is important to understand that these messages or photos are often originally sent innocently or without malicious intent. Imagine two high school students who have been going out for a while. The girl innocently sends a nude image of herself to her boyfriend and it’s all very exciting and feels “naughty”. A few days or weeks or months later, the couple breaks up, and he may be looking to get back at her. Or maybe they are still together but the boy just wants to show off to his friends. Either way – he simply forwards the nude image that was innocently sent to him on to his friends, and they forward it to their friends and pretty soon – the entire high school has seen it. As you can imagine, the effects of this can be devastating.

How widespread is it?

Following are some mind boggling sexting statistics:

One out of every seven Los Angeles high schoolers with a cell phone has sent a sexually explicit text message or photo, according to results of a 2011 survey.

28 percent of high school students sent a naked picture of themselves through text or e-mail, according to a University of Texas study.

Teens who sext are more likely to be having sex.

Girls who send nude photos of themselves are more likely to engage in risky behavior.

The lingo

The new sexting culture, has brought about some new terms:

Selfies: A selfie is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or smartphone. Selfies are often associated with social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Instagram, where they are often posted. They are usually casual, and may include sexually explicit photos.

Sexting virginity: A sexting virgin is someone who has not yet sent nude images of themselves using a mobile phone.

Snapchat: A photo messaging application where users can take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to other users. Users set a time limit for how long recipients can view their Snaps, ranging from up to 10 seconds to as little as 1 second, after which they will be hidden from the recipient’s device and deleted from the company’s servers. As it is considered “safe” kids often send their sexually explicit images in Snapchat, so that it has become associated with sexting.


Why do kids do it?

Sexting occurs most often in one of three scenarios:

  1. Exchanges of images solely between two romantic partners
  2. Exchanges between partners that are then shared outside the relationship
  3. Exchanges between people who are not yet in a relationship, but where often one person hopes to be.

Other reasons may include: responding to peer pressure – cyberbullying or pressure from a boyfriend or girlfriend, revenge after breakup, and simply impulsive behavior, flirting, or even blackmail.

The Biology behind it

Experts explain that the lack of foresight in understanding the possible consequences of sending a sext is, in part, due to biology. The frontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for predicting the consequences of an action, doesn’t fully develop until a person is in his or her early 20s. Teens are capable of making decisions, but they do need guidance and advice. [4]

Dr.Paul Simpson, a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist who has worked with youth over 25 years, explains the biological context in further detail:

“Research shows that during adolescence, the brain begins its final stages of maturation and continues to rapidly develop well into a person’s early 20s, concluding around the age of 25. The prefrontal cortex; which governs the ‘executive functions’ of reasoning, advanced thought, and impulse control, is the final area of the human brain to mature. Until then, the teen is overly reliant on their “primitive brain” and the amygdala, which is the “seat of emotion.”

The primitive brain … serves two primary purposes, the first is survival and the second is seeking out pleasurable feelings. Deep within the primitive brain is the Incentive Salience Circuitry. It’s typically nicknamed the “Pleasure Center”. The Incentive Salience Circuitry craves feel-good chemicals. These include Dopamine, Norepinephrine, Serotonin, Endorphins, Adrenaline, Oxytocin and Vasopressin …

Adolescents generally are greater risks for various social, emotional and physical reasons, including changes in the brain’s neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, which influence memory, concentration, problem solving and other mental functions. Dopamine is not yet at its most effective level in adolescents. Adolescents will experience “reward – deficiency syndrome” which means they are no longer stimulated by activities that thrilled them as younger children. Thus, they often engage in activities at greater risk and higher stimulation in efforts to achieve similar levels of excitement. Adolescents must rely heavily on the parts of the brain that house the emotional centers when making decisions, because the frontal regions of the brain are not fully developed.”

So sexting is out there, and it’s probably a lot more widespread than you thought. As a matter of fact, your 14 year old daughter may be sending a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend at this very minute.

Click here to find out about the dangers of sexting and here to learn what you can do

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