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What is Sexting

Sexting is when someone sends a sexually explicit message (image, video, or words) to another person via a mobile phone, computer, or tablet. 

Sexting can be an intimate expression between two private, caring, and consensual parties but is considered dangerous when exploitation and/or vulnerability is involved.

A rising culture of social media prominence, technology and accessibility has seen an increase in changes in the way we interact with each other – with consequent pressures for teenagers and adults to engage in “sexting” (sex-texting).

Sexting and the Law

The legal age for sexual consent in the UK is 16.  The Protection of Children Act 1978 states that it is an immediate offence to obtain, possess or share indecent images of anyone under the age of 18 even if the images were received with the consent of the young person involved. 

This also means that it is against the law for anyone under the age of 18 to possess, share, or send explicit or sexual images, even of themselves.  In 2019, police forces in England investigated an average of 241 sexting cases a month involving children under 14.  (Source: Guardian Newspaper). 

Consensual sexting between adults is not a sexual offence,  but if the picture/image is unwanted then there may be other offences such as harassment or blackmail to consider.

Sexting between an adult and a child is extremely serious and the adult will be deemed as breaking the law.    If you are concerned someone is sending your child indecent images you can report online to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) . 


Teens and adults may participate in sexting for different reasons: for teens, reported peer pressure is something to be aware of, as they may feel pressured by friends or a boy/girlfriend to share inappropriate images to prove or signify affection. Teens and children, in their first experiences of romance, may feel curious or think they are in love with the individual they are sending images to.

The EU Kids Online research in 2009 -11 conducted a study on sexting and found that 12% of 11–16-year-olds in the UK had seen or received sexual messages online, 2% receiving them more than once a week and has suggested social media influences as one of the main reasons behind the dangers of sexting. *

Psychological impact of sexting

For vulnerable parties, sexting can create problems: bullying, grooming, revenge, and loss of control to name just a few. Once an image is sent, there is little to no chance of retrieval as the data has been shared – there is a chance that it could be circulated widely, or even end up on a social media site through malicious means and be seen by friends, family and even employers. Something innocently sent in good faith and trust, with or without being aware of the consequences, could result in severe distress if that trust is broken and/or abused.

To experience having deeply personal explicit images or videos shared in the public domain can be an emotionally traumatic and violating experience. The psychological effects on victims are often pervasive and long lasting.

The victim may feel too embarrassed or ashamed to seek help and left feeling guilty for what someone else has done.  This was recently highlighted by Zara McDermott in her programme for BBC3 on how she was affected by Revenge Porn

Revenge Porn

Revenge Porn is defined as the publication / distribution / disclosure of a private sexual photograph or film, without the consent of the person who appears in the photograph or film, intending to cause that person distress.

Further Information

A qualitative study of children, young people and ‘sexting’: a report prepared for the NSPCC (2012)

EU Kids Online Research Project

Revenge Porn Helpline: 0345 6000 459

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