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Sexting is the sending and receiving of naked pictures or ‘nudes’, ‘underwear shots’, sexual or ‘dirty pics’ or rude text messages or videos. This could be via mobile phones, social networks, emails or social apps such as Facebook or Snapchat.
We’ve spoken to lots of young people about their reasons for sexting. You might sext a partner, a friend, or someone you've met online to show them you care, to get their attention and boost your self-esteem, or simply for fun if your friends are egging you on. You could also feel pressure to send or receive an image to keep your boyfriend or girlfriend happy, to ‘fit in’, or because you’ve been promised that the contents of your message will not be shared with anybody else.
Sending somebody a sexual message or photo might seem necessary or exciting at the time, but it can be dangerous.
Is sexting legal?
The consensual sharing of an image between two teenagers of a similar age in a relationship will not generally be treated as a crime, however, it could be in other scenarios, such as those involving exploitation, grooming or bullying.
What could happen if I send a sext?
Once you have sent your images to somebody, you have lost control of them. You may love or trust that person at the time, but this relationship could break down or you might grow apart. At this point, the respect between you could change and your image might be posted publicly to social networks or porn sites as revenge. It may also be shown to people that you hadn't wanted to see it. This is sexual bullying and can be humiliating.
Everything you do online leaves a digital footprint, and even if you think something has been deleted, it still exists in cyberspace and could resurface in years to come. Your friends, families, teachers, the police, prospective employers… Anybody could see that image of you and it could affect your future.
The consequences can be much scarier too. Police have warned that sexting can expose young adults to the risk of being exploited by paedophiles or sexual predators. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre say that some material being circulated can find its way onto forums being used by child sex offenders. Young people have been blackmailed with their own photos, and paedophiles have also been found to pose as the person in the picture to trap other victims.
I've sent a sext and I regret it. What can I do?
It's very normal to send a sext and wish you hadn't. Sometimes we get caught up in the moment or assume that everything will be fine, and sometimes it isn't. You might feel ashamed, guilty or anxious which is very normal, however please remember that you're not alone - we've met hundreds of young people who have been in a similar situation. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to make things better and ensure it doesn't happen again.
It is always worth having an honest conversation with the person you sent the image to. Hopefully they will be understanding if you simply ask them to delete it. While you can't control what someone will do with an image, talking to them about it as soon as possible can help to make sure they won't pass it on.
If you feel the situation cannot be sorted between yourself and the recipient of your mesage, you realy need to talk to somebody else about it as soon as possible. This could be your mum, dad, carer or a school teacher. This might be embarrassing, but far less so than potential consequences further down the line. Your school should have a policy on dealing with these sorts of problems and can confiscate mobiles if they are believed to hold sexual images.
If you’re under 18 and an indecent or nude pic of you has been shared online, this is a criminal offence. You can make a report to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), who work to remove any illegal images posted online. They will contact the website to try and remove it without anyone else being involved. If you need any help or support with this, you can call us any time.
Saying ‘no’ to sexting doesn’t make you frigid, boring, or mean you love or care for your partner any less; it’s empowering to take control and look after yourself - and will give you far less to worry about! Remember that the long term consequences of sexting can be more devastating than any negative reaction you may get from somebody initially. Childline have a fantastic app called Zipit to help you stay in control of any situation where somebody may be trying to make you send a sexual image of yourself.
If you’re in a healthy relationship or have a true friendship, there shouldn't be any pressure to sext. Photos or snapchats of each other‘s silliest or ugliest faces will be more than enough!
If you want to know more about sexting, have any questions, or have sent/received an image and need some advice or support, we’re here to listen and help. You can call us on 0808 800 2222.