The title of a new study on teen sexting in the Journal of Children and Media perfectly encapsulates the dilemma for many women in society: “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t… if you’re a girl.” Girls say they’re pressured by boys to acquiesce — and then shamed for doing so.
Psychologist Julia Lippman, along with colleagues at the University of Michigan, conducted interviews with a few dozen adolescents to learn more about attitudes toward the illicit sharing of such photographs by text message. “The girls who sexted were characterized as slutty, while the girls who didn’t were characterized as prudes. But the boys didn’t face any penalty. It was a very one-sided equation,” Lippman said, according to HealthDay.
A 2008 study of a nationally representative group of teenagers, aged 13 to 19, found that 19 percent of boys and girls had sent sexually explicit photographs or videos of themselves to someone by text or another electronic means, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Study co-author Scott Campbell, an associate professor of communications, says girls are no more likely than boys to engage in sexting but more likely to suffer social repercussions. “This is the same kind of double standard that we’ve seen in traditional contexts,” he said in the statement.
The researchers surveyed 51 adolescents, aged 12 to 18, who were split about evenly between boys and girls, from the metropolitan areas of Atlanta, New York City, and Denver. Among the 43 children who participated in the survey, nine acknowledged sending sexually explicit photographs of themselves, while nearly half said they’d received such sexts. However, most of those who’d received such sexually explicit content were boys, looking at girls.
According to interviews with the children, sexting is sometimes a way of broaching romance. “If a guy wants to hook up with you, he’ll send pictures of his private parts or a naked picture of him,” one girl wrote in the survey. A boy wrote, “I know I can get it from” girls who send him sexts. Whereas some of the participants said sexting was “no big deal,” others judged girls for sending explicit photographs of themselves to boys. “This is common only for girls with ‘slut’ reputations,” wrote an 18-year-old male.
Still, the small study doesn’t break new ground in the realm of teenage sexting, according to David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes against Children Research Center. “Sexting is really a small part of the teen sexual decision-making problem,” he told HealthDay. “The big elements are decision-making around consent and assault, drinking, intercourse, and contraceptive usage.”
Source: Lippman J, Campbell S. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…if you’re a girl: Relational and normative contexts of adolescent sexting in the United States. Journal of Children and Media. 2014.