In the current debate around sexting, this book gives a nuanced account of motives, contexts and possible risks of intimate digital communication. 

Authors discuss how social media shape new dating opportunities through apps and dating sites, how sexting fits within individual’s relational and sexual development. They examine the relationships between sexting, health and sexual risk behaviours and focusing on adolescents, further highlight which role parents can play in relational and sexual education. Chapters cover topics such as abusive sexting behaviours in the context of dating violence and slut shaming, media discourses concerning sexting and the legal framework in several countries that shape the context of sexting.

This edited collection will be of great interest to academics and students of communication studies, psychology, health sciences and sociology, as well as policy makers and the general public interested in current debates on how social media are used for intimate communication.


1. Sharing and caring?  The role of social media and privacy in sexting behaviour.

    Michel Walrave, Joris Van Ouytsel, Koen Ponnet, Jeff R. Temple

In this introductory chapter, we explore the roots of sexting and the debate surrounding intimate self-disclosures through social media. Discussions concerning sexting and sexting related incidents are related with social media affordances. In particular, we investigate how digital media content’s persistence, visibility, spreadability and searchability are linked to challenges that individuals may face when sexting. Next, we examine how sexting behaviours can be understood through the lens of online disinhibition, as this may lower thresholds for intimate forms of communication. Finally, once a sexting message is sent, it involves individuals who share (or do not share) the same objectives and values concerning the intimate information they co-own. The Communication Privacy Management theory provides a framework to understand sexting as a shared responsibility.

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2. Information disclosure, trust and health risks in online dating.

     Lara Hallam, Michel Walrave and Charlotte J. De Backer

Online dating is characterized by computer-mediated communication (CMC) with a lessened availability of physical context cues, limiting online daters to nonverbally express themselves. This restricted amount of available cues generated a scientific research tension between the cues-filtered-in approach and the cues-filtered-out approach. Both theories were developed for CMC environments, yet only some explain self-disclosure and romantic relationship development in online dating. Next, the fact that online dating is initiated through CMC also encompasses enlarged opportunities of online dating profile manipulation. These different forms of deception can potentially harm online daters’ mental and physical health. This chapter gives an in-depth view on all the aforementioned aspects of online dating and will further discuss interpersonal trust development through self-disclosure.

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3. A nuanced account: why do individuals engage in sexting?

     Joris Van Ouytsel, Michel Walrave and Koen Ponnet

Based on a review of both quantitative and qualitative studies, this chapter aims to explore individuals’ motives for engaging in sexting. The chapter outlines adolescents’ and adults’ various reasons for engaging in sexting, both inside and outside the context of a romantic relationship. These reasons include flirting with a date and sustaining intimacy within an already established romantic relationship. The chapter also focuses on the pressure that often accompanies sexting. Finally, the chapter discusses the potentially positive effects of exchanging sexually explicit pictures.

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4. Sexting from a health perspective: sexting, health and risky sexual behaviour.

    Jeff R. Temple and Yu Lu

With the advent and ubiquity of smartphones being less than a decade old, it is not surprising that research on teen sexting is in its infancy. Although it has consistently been shown that sexting is related to actual sexual behaviour, research on the link between sexting and adverse health outcomes is less clear. The current chapter will review the evidence examining the link between teen sexting and 1) sexual behaviour, 2) risky sexual behaviour, and 3) psychosocial health. Practical strategies will be provided on how to address sexting with teens and teens’ parents, when concerns about sexting are justified, and potential methods to prevent coercive sexting. Arguments will be supported with original data from an ongoing longitudinal study of adolescent health.

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5. Parents’ role in adolescents’ relational and sexual education.

     Ini Vanwesenbeeck, Koen Ponnet, Michel Walrave and Joris Van Ouytsel

In this chapter we provide an overview of parental styles that are used by parents, the application of these parental styles towards media use and the parental mediation of sexual behaviour of adolescents. In adolescents’ relational and sexual development, parents may play a role in addressing health risks. As sexting has become a part of intimate communication for adolescents, sexting related risks could be addressed in parents’ sex education. Therefore, we integrate the findings of several studies on parenting and discuss which implications parenting may have for sexting behaviour. Investigating how parenting and parental styles could impact upon sexting behaviour is important, as this could lead to practical recommendations to parents on how to prevent and deal with sexting related risks.

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6. Slut-shaming 2.0

    Kathleen Van Royen, Karolien Poels, Heidi Vandebosch and Michel Walrave

The practice of slut-shaming became rampant with the advent of social networking sites (SNS). This chapter will discuss how these platforms pose additional risks for female adolescents to be slut-shamed. It will be argued that SNS have expanded the impact and scope of slut-shaming through, for example, the easy replication and persistence of publicly visible content on SNS. Furthermore, this chapter will examine the prevalence and characteristics of slut-shaming (derived from perceptions of the victim’s point of view) particularly on SNS, based on a survey study amongst 476 adolescent females (12-18y). To conclude, efforts will be discussed to prevent this form of harassment. Several actors such as parents, schools, mass media and social media providers, should take more responsibility as well as convey equal gender norms starting from a young age.

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7. A sexting ‘panic’? What we learn from media coverage of sexting incidents.

     Alyce McGovern and Murray Lee

This chapter explores media discourses around young people and sexting incidents, with a particular focus on the UK and Australia. Following a review of the literature on media coverage of sexting, the chapter identifies the key themes delineating discussions about young people’s sexting. It then moves on to develop an analysis around a number of case studies to demonstrate the ways in which media identifies risks and moral boundaries around people’s sexting, and the potential influences of this on public debates around young people’s intimate communications. The chapter then reflects on whether these media discourses bear relation to the way in which young people themselves understand sexting behaviours. We conclude by suggesting panic around sexting must be understood in the context of competing discourses around young people and sexual expression.

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8. Sexting and the law.

    Thomas Crofts and Eva Lievens

This chapter explores the laws that frame sexting with a particular focus on Australia and Europe. International concerns over the impact that new technologies have had on child pornography and child abuse have led to countries strengthening laws to protect children. The chapter analyses how such reforms have impacted on children who engage in sexting and whether children have been criminalised for sexting behaviours. It will be seen that some countries have taken quite divergent approaches. This chapter concludes by assessing how and whether a legal response to sexting is appropriate and necessary.

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