How can interventions reduce sexting?

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

Sexting is a new phenomenon with a high potential risk, especially at adolescents. During this period, teenagers are heavily influenced by their peers worldwide and usually tend to misperceive a lot of situations.

It was estimated by Van Ouytsel et al., 2018 that 15-60% of adolescents sext. Even though sexting is a method of exploring among adolescents, they must be aware of the exposure to danger. For example, when messages are distributed to people other than the intended recipient, sexting can lead to decreased emotional well-being. Furthermore, sexting is associated with greater risks of dangerous sexual behaviours, such as casual sex or unprotected intercourse.

Teenagers are mostly affected by their peers' common behaviours, especially by popular adolescents who are dominant and highly visible in the peer group. Non-popular adolescents frequently overestimate their popular peers' sexual behaviour as well as their engagement in a range of risk behaviours. Nevertheless, some studies have found that popular adolescents report similar numbers of intercourse and oral sex partners relative to their peers.


A study by A.J. Maheux, et al. 2020 investigated the rates of sexting among popular and non-popular adolescents and the association between adolescents' perceptions of popular peers’ sexting behaviour and their own sexting behaviour. 626 students from 11 and 12 grade, with a mean age of 17.4 participated in this study in the southeastern U.S.

The adolescents reported the number of partners with whom they had engaged in sexual activity during the past year, including making out or sexual touching. They were also asked about their sexting behaviour as well as the “most popular” and “least popular” grade-mates.

According to the results, 55.6% of adolescents reported having sent a sex message in the past year, where girls were more likely to have been sexted than boys. Even though 87.4% believed that the typical popular girl or boy in their grade had sent a sext, there was no significant difference in the rates of sexting between popular and non-popular peers. An interesting result was that adolescents who perceived that the popular peer had sent a sext, were over ten times more likely to send a sext themselves.

In conclusion, adolescents were ten times more likely to sext if they believed their popular peers had done so. This highlights the role of popular peer norms in sexting. The study suggests that it is essential to consider perceptions of peer norms as a modifiable belief. Interventions to reduce sexting can expose adolescents to popular peers abstaining from sexting as a means of changing beliefs.

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