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Peer pressure to sext is common in adolescents

Harold Mandel's picture
Teens and sexual health

Adolescents are often confronted with a great deal of peer pressure to sext. Although the high tech revolution has brought many advantages for communication, along with educational and career pursuits, it nevertheless has also brought with it peer pressure for adolescents to get involved in sexting.

There have been growing concerns about adolescents producing, consuming, and distributing sexual materials with mobile phone communication, reported Media Psychology. Researchers investigated key aspects of peer influence and the peer context in association to sexting and mobile porn use. It was revealed in a high-school survey study that 6 percent of Flemish teens, aged 11–20, have sent a sext, while 9 percent use mobile porn.

Both behaviors were reported more often in teens who were more popular with the other sex and who had a greater need for popularity. Mobile porn use by boys was also predicted by perceived peer pressure. Same sex popularity was not found to be related to boys' sexting behavior and mobile porn use, but for girls, a negative relationship was observed. The researchers concluded this study indicates that sexting and mobile porn use are mobile phone practices which are strongly associated with the dynamics of adolescent peer groups.

It has been advised that practitioners who want to sensitize teens about the potential risks of these sexting practices should remain attentive to this association. In consideration of an adolescent frame of reference, sexting and mobile porn use may be associated primarily with benefits, as this relates to peer acceptance, instead of risks. Highly individualized decisions were seen as to where boundaries lie with sexting, implying that to a certain degree adolescents appear to be self-aware of their responsibilities. For example, one of the girls who was not comfortable sending naked pictures, nevertheless found slutty pictures of herself to be perfectly acceptable.

In regard to age, sexting appeared more common among older girls. A possible explanation for this observation may be that sexting seems to harm older girls' reputations less than it does with younger girls. With boys, age was not found to be directly related to the use of mobile porn, nor to sexting. However, with boys age significantly predicted the need for popularity and self-perceived popularity dealing with the other sex.

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Mobile phones have become fully integrated into the social lives of today’s teenagers, reports Taylor and Francis via Alpha Galileo. A growing number of studies on adolescent mobile communication have reported that the consumption and distribution of pornographic imagery with mobile phones has become common in adolescent peer groups. Adolescents who have been asked why they participate in these behaviors consistently point to the influence of peer group dynamics.

Dr. Mariek Vanden Abeele, while discussing her and her coauthors interest in studying this topic, has said, “We were intrigued by the fact that most teens appear aware of the potential risks of sexting, but nevertheless still commit to producing and distributing nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves to their peers.” These researchers felt all along that a possible explanation for the fact that teenagers engage in sexting practices in spite of the obvious risks, could be due to the role of powerful peer group dynamics such as peer pressure and popularity.

Dr. Abeele says that the results of this study have suggested that, in the eyes of teenagers, sexting and mobile porn use do actually bring short-term benefits in regard to enhancing popularity in the peer group that may in fact outweigh potential long-term risks which are associated with these behaviors. It certainly appears that sexting has become a trendy activity among many adolescents.

It is not really surprising that peer pressure appears to play a significant role in adolescent sexting. During this time in development peer acceptance is generally extremely important. However, in view of the fact that there could be both short term and long term negative consequences to sexting, concerns about sexting should not be taken lightly. Sexual exploitation of adolescents, during such a sensitive and critical time in their development, would appear to become more likely with sexting.

There is also always the possibility that later in life as attitudes about individual sexuality mature and take on different dimensions, sexting from earlier in life could come back to haunt both men and women and hurt their personal and career interests. It would appear rational to assume all of this could lead to serious emotional consequences and even in extreme cases suicides in adolescents and older people alike. I therefore strongly encourage much more aggressive initiatives to educate our youth about the serious consequences of sexting. Public health departments and primary care physicians should consider this problem to be serious enough to be confronted.

Photo courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/Freedigitalphotos.net