In a time where technology is continuously advancing and becoming a core part of society, it is pertinent to analyze and discuss the potentially adverse health outcomes that can occur in adolescents through certain channels. A key area of concern is nonconsensual sexting, defined by the following literature as, forwarding a sext or having a sext forwarded without consent.
A systematic review and meta-analysis recently published in JAMA Pediatrics by Madigan et al reviews the prevalence of sexting behaviors among adolescents. This article highlights the heightened concern over nonconsensual sexting stating that, “among youths, 14.8 percent and 27.4 percent have sent or received sexts, respectively; furthermore, 12.0 percent of youths have forwarded a sext and 8.4 percent have had their sexts forwarded without consent”. With findings such as these, this article suggests that further research on nonconsensual sexting is essential to better inform and educate the public.
Dr. Elizabeth Reed, an associate professor at SDSU and co-director of the SDSU-UCSD joint doctoral program in global health, Dr. Marissa Salazar, a recent graduate from the joint doctoral program in global health, and Dr. Anita Raj, a professor in the joint doctoral program at UCSD, have written a letter in response to this review article to applaud the authors’ emphasis on nonconsensual sexting and demonstrating the necessity for future research on the topic. According to Dr. Reed, “there have been many studies that link sexting with poor health outcomes, such as substance use and poor mental health among adolescents; however, these adverse outcomes may be attributable to the high proportion of sexting that is nonconsensual, rather than to sexting itself”. The authors of this letter argue that future research must focus on the gender differences that exist in cyber sexual harassment, specifically nonconsensual sexting. Authors reported that closer examination of the articles reviewed by Madigan revealed weaknesses that make gender-based comparisons of nonconsensual sexting difficult to determine at this stage. In contrast, authors’ previous research among adults has found that women were two times more likely than men to have had sexual images shared without their consent. When asked about their current research on this issue with adolescent girls, Dr. Reed stated that their initial findings discovered that, “among sexually active adolescent girls locally in San Diego County, the majority of girls in our study reported either having ever been pressured to sext or having a sext shared without permission. Girls also report other forms of cyber sexual harassment in high proportions, including receiving unwanted sexual messages/photos and receiving unwanted messages asking them to do something sexual”.
As the issue of nonconsensual sexting continues to grow, it is more important than ever to raise awareness and educate the public on this topic. The authors of the response letter will soon be publishing their findings on girls’ experiences of nonconsensual sexting which they, “hope will continue to elicit more attention to this issue, especially how in some groups, this is affecting most adolescent girls and in very adverse ways”.