Sharing ‘nudes’ or ‘pics’ is a common part of the modern romantic and sexual script for many young people.
Sexting is a digital extension of young people’s sexual relationships. At the same time, sexting becomes a cause for concern when sexual double standards, disrespect towards women and coercive behaviour are facilitated or reinforced.
The approach we apply to supporting young people to safely and respectfully engage in intimate ‘real-world’ relationships also applies to sexting. Just like in young people’s face-to-face romantic and sexual relationships, the harms associated with sexting can be largely mitigated by supporting young people to be consensual, safe, respectful and act in accordance with the law.
Below are some tips for talking with the young people you work with about these issues.
Use terms such as ‘nudes’ or ‘pics’ in place of ‘sexting’ when speaking directly with young people. This is the language young people typically use and are more likely to engage with.
Advising young people to ‘never sext’ does not fit with the reality of young people’s lives – 52 percent of young people aged 16 to 19 years report voluntarily sending a sexual image of themselves at least once. ¹
When it comes to sexting, we need to focus on supporting young people to engage with each other safely and respectfully, just as we do with face-to-face intimate and sexual relationships.
When working with young people, avoid relying on extreme case-studies of ‘sexting gone horribly wrong’ to make a one-sided case for abstaining from sexting. Young people are much more likely to respond to an approach that helps them to determine when sexting is okay or not okay based on their personal values.
When addressing image-based abuse, focus on:
- defining what image-based abuse looks like in practice for young people. For example, identifying that it could be screen-shotting a Snapchat nude to share with others
- placing the responsibility for image-based abuse on the perpetrator by clearly identifying that it’s everyone’s responsibility to never non-consensually share sexually explicit messages, images and videos, or coerce others into creating or sending these
- critiquing common responses to image-based abuse to identify the assumptions about gender stereotypes and roles – for example, that young women who experience image-based abuse “shouldn’t have taken a naked image in the first-place”
- referring young people to the legislation in your State or Territory. Please see .
- advising young people who experience image-based abuse, or are supporting a friend, to check the for support and how to report.
Consider using the questions below as prompts for discussion. Some useful answers are also included.
- How do you know if someone wants to receive a nude? How can you check?
- What does pressure to sext look like? In what ways might someone show they’re not keen?
- Repeated requests when they’ve ignored you previously, avoided the request or said they don’t want to.
- Trying to persuade or guilt-trip someone. For example, “If you really loved me, you’d send one” or, “Everyone else is doing it…”.
- Threatening someone. For example, “I’ll break up with you if you don’t send one” or, “I’ll show everyone the texts you sent if you don’t send a pic”.
- If you experience pressure to send a nude, what can you do?
- What should you do with sexts you receive? Is it okay to keep a nude from an ex?
- Regularly delete sensitive messages you’ve sent or received – and let people know when you have (to ease their mind). Don’t forget to empty your recently deleted and trash folders!
- Do not screenshot nudes you receive.
- Delete all sexts someone sent you if they ask you to.
- Never show anyone else sexts you receive.
- Be aware of the legal consequences associated with sexting and image-based abuse.
- Is it ever okay to show someone else a nude that you’ve received?
- No, it is never okay to show anyone else a sext you receive, unless you are reporting an incident to the police, or another relevant authority..
- You have to keep the other person’s privacy and trust.
- Would you want your nudes being passed around?
Encourage young people to reflect on the different ‘rules’ for young men and young women and identify when and how these rules are expressed.
Ask questions like:
- How are young women who send nudes viewed and described? How is this different to the way that young men who send nudes are treated?
- Who is usually held responsible when a nude is (non-consensually) shared?
- Is it reasonable or fair that the person who took a nude is usually held responsible?
- Why is it seen as ‘normal’ and ‘expected’ that young men will ask for nude pics?
It’s important to integrate the issues of sexting and image-based abuse into the wider work you’re doing on sex and relationships. For example, a session on consent can include an example about image-based abuse.
Integrating content, rather than dealing with it separately, can be a good way to show young people that you understand that sexting is a sex/relationship practice in their lives and that the same ‘rules’ around consent apply.