By Lydia Hales
Nearly half a cohort of people aged 16 to 29 had ‘sexted’ (sent or received sexually explicit material via mobile phones or online) in the past year, a study by Burnet Institute’s Dr Megan Lim has found.
The study involved a survey of more than 1,300 young people who attended the music festival, the Big Day Out (BDO) in Melbourne in 2014, revealing 40 percent had been involved in sexting.
The researchers noted young people made a conscious distinction between consensual sexting and nonconsensual sharing or circulation of the material, which is currently not well recognised by aspects of the law or some media.
There has been limited academic study in Australia about how common sexting is amongst young people and their attitudes towards it.
“It was seen as not only common but a normal and acceptable part of dating; a way to flirt and develop intimacy,” Dr Lim said.
“Sexting was only problematic when trust was violated and private photos were shared without consent.
“It is important it is this sharing that is condemned, not sexting itself.”
The study found that 67 percent of those who said they had engaged in sexting did so with a regular partner.
Dr Lim and colleagues have spent 10 years of surveying attendees at Melbourne’s Big Day Out, collecting information on topics from sexual risk behavior to mental health and bullying, while providing information about sexually transmitted infections.
The researchers note Australian law states that creating, possessing or forwarding sexually explicit images of a person under the age of 18 is illegal and a child pornography offence under the 1958 Crimes Act.
Consequently, sexting that involves an image of someone under the age of 18, whether or not the image is consensually produced, possessed or shared, is a crime, and those participating can be charged and registered as a sex offender.
Researchers and policymakers have previously examined the legalities of sexting, and legislative change has occurred in several jurisdictions. In contrast, there has been limited exploration of sexting as a social and health issue, although several notable social outcomes of sexting have been identified.
Click to read the full study here, or here for more about Dr Lim’s research, including current project “SEXT ME UR (.)(.) An investigation of the prevalence and practice of sexting among young Australians”.