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24 September 2013

Teen Sexting – Does it Differ Across European Countries?

Keywords: interview, survey, teens, Eastern Europe & Russia, SMS, Western Europe, mobile, mobile phone,

Sexting - sending sexually explicit images (or sometimes texts) via mobile phones or other electronic devices - has received a lot of attention. Engaging in sexting is a dangerous activity for teens and can have lifelong consequences. Most research has focused on the prevalence and causes of teen sexting. A study presented at the annual conference of the International Communication Association (ICA) in London investigated whether individual and country characteristics can explain why teens engage in sexting and if this differs across 20 European countries. 

Take aways

  • Older teens and teens with high levels of sensation seeking are more likely to engage in sexting.
  • Gender differences in teen sexting vary across countries. 
  • Although country characteristics have no direct link with teen sexting, in more traditional countries boys are more likely to engage in sexting than girls.
  • The insight that country characteristic are less important for explaining sexting behavior in teens than individual characteristics is important for policy makers developing campaigns to prevent teen sexting.

Study information

  • The question?

    Do individual and country characteristics explain why teens engage in sexting? And does this vary across countries?

  • Who?

    14,946 11- to 16-year olds (mean age: 13 years old); 50% boys

  • Where?

    20 countries in Europe

  • How?

    The study was conducted in the spring and summer of 2010 via face-to-face interviews and paper-and-pencil surveys for sensitive questions. Approximately 1,000 teens were interviewed per country. Teens were asked whether they had ever sent or posted a sexual message (i.e., sexting), if they did dangerous things for fun (i.e., sensation seeking), and how often they used the Internet.

Facts and findings

  • Older teens and teens with high levels of sensation seeking were more likely to engage in sexting across all 20 European countries. 
  • The association between gender differences and teen sexting varied across countries;
    • in some countries boys were more likely than girls to engage in teen sexting (e.g., Cyprus, Italy, and Germany).
    • in other countries girls were more likely than boys to engage in sexting (e.g., Denmark, Finland, and Norway). 
    • in some countries boys and girls equally engaged in teen sexting (e.g., the Netherlands and Czech Republic). 
  • An explanation is that the gender differences are due to the prevailing values in a country (i.e., traditionalism). In more traditional countries, boys were more likely to engage in teen sexting than girls. In less traditional countries, gender differences were less apparent or even reversed. 
  • There was no direct link between country characteristics and teen sexting. Thus, country characteristics may be less important for explaining teen sexting than individual characteristics.
  • Critical note: This study does not allow for any conclusions about cause (e.g., individual characteristics) and effect (e.g., teen sexting). The results only show that some individual characteristics are associated with teen sexting and cannot say anything about what causes what.