Analysis of the Impact of Sexting on Youth Culture

In today's age of technology and information, the dominance of the internet and mobile technology devices in our society is undeniable. Over 90% of Australian teenagers aged 15-17 own mobile phones (Australian Communications and Media Authority, 2010). This pervasive digital culture has led to an overexposure of sexual content in various forms of media, fundamentally transforming the way young people interact with one another.

The Emergence of Sexting

One notable phenomenon that has emerged due to the increased accessibility of these devices and the exposure to sexual content is the practice of 'sexting.

' The term 'sexting' is a portmanteau of 'texting' and 'sex,' referring to the exchange of sexually explicit material through modern communication devices (Forde, L. & Hardley, S., 2011). This practice has garnered significant media attention and is considered one of the latest youth trends in popular culture (Funnell, N., 2012).

While the sharing of sexually explicit material is not a new concept, it has become more accessible and widespread with the advent of the internet and mobile technology (Walker, S.

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, Sanci, L., & Temple-Smith, M., 2011). Shared images can become a permanent part of a young person's digital footprint, potentially affecting their future career prospects and relationships (NSW Government, 2008).

Recent surveys indicate that sexting is prevalent among young people. A national survey conducted in 2010 by Understanding Teenagers found that 59% of teenagers have electronically transmitted sexually suggestive material (Understanding Teenagers, 2010). Another survey by Girlfriend magazine reported that 40% of 558 participants had engaged in sexting (Parliament of Victoria Law Reform Committee Sexting Inquiry (PVLRCSI), 2012).

Furthermore, the legal ramifications of sexting are becoming increasingly apparent.

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In Queensland, 459 sexting offenses were reported in 2011 (PVLRCSI, 2012), and in Western Australia, sexting offenses tripled from 2009 to 2011 (PVLRCSI, 2012). American psychologist Andrew Smiler identified various motivations for sexting, including demonstrating commitment in a relationship, impressing friends, harassment or bullying, and dares.

Sexting Through Sociological Lenses

Feminist Theory

Sexting is recognized as a gender-related issue, as it often stems from societal pressures placed on young girls to present themselves as sexually desirable. Similarly, young men have been conditioned to expect and encourage such behavior. This phenomenon has created a platform for young people to conform to these expectations (Walker, S., Sanci, L., & Temple-Smith, M., 2011). Notably, young girls are at a greater risk of adverse effects than young men due to this behavior (Walker, S., Sanci, L., & Temple-Smith, M., 2011). Experts have even suggested a potential link between sexting and gendered sexual violence targeting women (Walker, S., Sanci, L., & Temple-Smith, M., 2011).

Writer and speaker Melinda Tankard-Reist highlights the societal pressure placed on young girls to be sexually appealing, creating a culture that normalizes the sexualization of young girls (Tutorial DVD). Authors Jean Kilbourne and Diane Levin argue that media messages encourage boys to judge their female peers based on appearance and to expect sexual subservience (Burton, L., 2012).

Anne Manne, a feminist, reflects on the relationship between women's liberation and the sexual freedom movement, noting the complexities and tensions between the two. She also observes that pornography has played a significant role in shaping the new sexual liberalism (as cited by Burton, L., 2012). Many young females in today's media express similar sentiments, feeling influenced by celebrities who engage in explicit behaviors.

For instance, Miley Cyrus's provocative performances and videos have raised concerns about the influence of raunch culture on younger generations. This phenomenon is emblematic of a broader shift in societal attitudes toward sexuality and its impact on youth.

Symbolic Interaction Theory

Symbolic interactionism emphasizes the central role of communication in human interaction and the creation of society (Carl, J & Baker, S, 2011). From this perspective, sexting can be viewed as young people exercising their power to shape societal norms and standards. Within their subculture, youth establish their own definitions of what constitutes normal and acceptable behavior (Carl, J & Baker, S, 2011).

Interestingly, youth often do not refer to this activity as "sexting" but use terms like "taking noodz," "naked selfies," "dirty pics," or "sexy pics" (The University of Melbourne, 2012). While such creativity and individualism may be acceptable within subgroups like the youth culture, it can conflict with societal norms on a macro level (The University of Melbourne, 2012).

Symbolic Interactionist Chafetz argues that men and women communicate differently, with men often dominating conversations and women following arbitrary rules imposed by men. This dynamic reinforces stereotypical gender roles, where women use body language or gestures, such as sending nude images, while men tend to be more direct in displaying their masculinity by demanding such pictures from women (Carl & Hillman, 2011).

Ultimately, sexting reflects how individuals' perceptions of gender roles evolve from their daily interactions, contributing to the ongoing debate about the sexualization of culture.

The Influence of Media

Today's society is saturated with sexually explicit content, leading to desensitization among the population. Psychologist Andrew Smiler notes that a pornographic aesthetic has pervaded culture, influencing fashion, music, entertainment, and behavior (Smiler, A as cited in Burton, L., 2012). Billboards, music videos, and designer stores shape the desires and imaginations of a younger demographic, contributing to the sexualization of culture (Burton, L., 2012).

Research conducted by Hewlett Packard emphasizes the power of visual communication. Visual content often has a more significant impact than verbal communication, with people learning and retaining visual information more effectively (Hewlett Packard, 2004). Sexual images, often presented without words, are reshaping community values and encouraging young people's sexual exploration, reinforcing the behavior of sexting.

Australian Institute researcher Flood suggests that regular exposure to sexual content in mainstream media fosters greater sexual knowledge and more liberal sexual attitudes among children and young people. Media, operating at the macro level, exerts influence that trickles down to the micro level, shaping individuals' communication patterns. Symbolic interactionism provides a useful framework for understanding the development of the subculture of sexting within this broader context.

Effects of Sexting

Social and Emotional Impact

While many youth engage in sexting, they are often unaware of its consequences. The social ramifications can be particularly damaging, as demonstrated by the tragic case of Jessica Logan, an 18-year-old student in the United States. Jessica's explicit images sent to her boyfriend were disseminated to hundreds of people, ultimately leading to her suicide (Forde, L. & Hardley, S., 2011).

While not all cases are as extreme as Jessica's, the widespread distribution of these images is common and can have severe psychological, emotional, and social consequences for the individuals involved (Goodings and Everaardt (2010) as cited in the Parliament of Victoria Law Reform Committee Sexting Inquiry, 2013). The viral spread of these images, along with associated shame, can lead to social isolation, psychological distress, and legal repercussions for the victims (Katzman, 2010).

Legal Implications

Due to the rapid evolution of technology, practices like sexting are not adequately covered by Australian law, resulting in a cultural lag (Carl, J & Baker, S, 2011). Young people who send and receive sexually explicit images may unknowingly find themselves in legal trouble under various state and Commonwealth child pornography laws.

For instance, Part 10.6 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 makes it an offense to access, transmit, publish, possess, control, supply, or obtain child pornography (Forde, L. & Hardley, S., 2011). In Queensland, those convicted of child pornography may also be added to the Sex Offenders Register. Additionally, sexting can fall under the category of sexual harassment under S28A of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Forde, L. & Hardley, S., 2011).

While these laws are designed to protect children from adult abuse, many argue that they are ill-suited to address the issue of youth sexting. Those working with children should be aware that confiscating a data storage device containing such images or having such images stored on a school device can also result in legal consequences (Forde, L. & Hardley, S., 2011).

My Role as a Youth Worker

As a youth worker, I would play a crucial role in mentoring and supporting young people involved in sexting at the grassroots level. Additionally, I would advocate for comprehensive sex education classes that include young people's perspectives and ideas to develop effective solutions (Walker. S., Sanci, L. & Temple-Smith, M, 2011).

Christian Youth Work Perspective

Adolescence is a formative stage where individuals are shaping their identities and searching for truth, purpose, and belonging (PBS, 2011). Many young people lack guidance on building and maintaining healthy relationships, making them more susceptible to risky behaviors (Burton, L, 2012).

Christian youth workers and chaplains have a unique opportunity to educate youth on topics such as identity, purpose, and healthy relationships within school settings. I believe that young people can find their true identity in Christ and understand that they ultimately belong to Him. This knowledge can empower them, answering questions about identity, truth, and purpose (Burton, L, 2012).

Christian Evaluation

From a Christian perspective, sexting is considered sexually immoral behavior due to the pornographic nature of the images involved. The Bible contains numerous references condemning such behavior. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 6:18, Paul advises to "flee from sexual immorality" and emphasizes the sanctity of the body as temples of the Holy Spirit (NIV).

Similarly, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7 underscores the importance of avoiding sexual immorality and maintaining a holy and honorable lifestyle. The message in Ephesians 5:1-4 advocates for healthy relationships and warns against sexual promiscuity and immoral behavior.

While it is not the role of Christians to judge youth engaged in sexting, our responsibility is to encourage them to change their behavior due to its dangers. The Church should promote healthy relationships and exemplify Christ's love in addressing these complex issues.


In conclusion, the practice of sexting has become a significant concern in today's youth culture. Enabled by the proliferation of technology and influenced by media portrayals of sexuality, sexting has both social and legal consequences. It is essential for youth workers, educators, and society at large to address this issue by providing support, comprehensive education, and guidance to young people.

Moreover, from a Christian perspective, the focus should be on promoting values of love, respect, and healthy relationships while refraining from judgment. By recognizing the multifaceted aspects of sexting and its impact, we can work together to create a safer and more informed environment for today's youth.

Updated: Nov 08, 2023
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Analysis of the Impact of Sexting on Youth Culture. (2016, Apr 30). Retrieved from

Analysis of the Impact of Sexting on Youth Culture essay
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