Sexting: What is it? What are the consequences for me?

A rising culture of social media prominence, technology and accessibility has seen an increase in societal pressures on relationships and changes in the way we interact with each other – with consequent pressures for teenagers and adults to engage in “sexting” (sex-texting).

Sexting is when someone sends or receives a sexually explicit image, video or text on their mobile phone, computer or tablet. It can include sexual chat or requests for pictures/images of a sexual nature.

Sexting can be an intimate expression between two private, caring and consensual parties, but may also be considered dangerous when exploitation and/or vulnerability is involved.

It is against the law for anyone under the age of 18 to possess, share or send explicit or sexual images, even of themselves; according to the BBC there have been 4,000 children under the age of 12 who have been involved in sexting*.

While adults participate at their own risk, there can be harmful consequences for doing so. The lure of taking a sexy snap for a loved one may seem appealing at that moment, but it’s worth considering facts and potential consequences first:


Teens and adults may participate in sexting for different reasons: for teens, reported peer pressure is something to be aware of, as they may feel pressured by friends or a boy/girlfriend to share inappropriate images to prove or signify affection. Teens and children, in their first experiences of romance, may feel curious or think they are in love with the individual they are sending images to. It is important to understand that although the age of sexual consent is 16, sharing explicit images of yourself under the age of 18 is considered child pornography and you could face a prison sentence.

The EU Kids Online project conducted a study on sexting and found that 12% of 11–16-year olds in the UK have seen or received sexual messages online, 2% receiving them more than once a week and has suggested social media influences as one of the main reasons behind the dangers of sexting. *
Adults may participate in sexting as part of their relationship through sharing intimate images or videos of themselves or sending explicit messages. It’s worth remembering that – whilst it may be satisfying at the time – it can sometimes be unhealthy for people to rely on the approval or validation from others on how they look. Self-esteem boosts from a sexy selfie can help you feel good about yourself but if you notice you are needing other people to say you look good too then it may be helpful to consider the impact this is having on your mental health and wellbeing.

Psychological impact of sexting

For vulnerable parties, sexting can create problems: bullying, grooming, revenge and loss of control to name just a few. Once an image is sent, there is little to no chance of retrieval as the data has been shared – there is a chance that it could be circulated widely, or even end up on a social media site through malicious means and be seen by friends, family and even employers. Something innocently sent in good faith and trust, with or without being aware of the consequences, could result in severe distress if that trust is broken and/or abused.

To experience having deeply personal explicit images or videos shared in the public domain can be an emotionally traumatic and violating experience. The psychological effects on victims are often pervasive and long lasting.* The victim may feel too embarrassed or ashamed to seek help and left feeling guilty for what someone else has done.

It is a crime for anyone to possess, take, make, distribute or show anyone an indecent or abuse image of a child or young person under 18 years of age. Whilst the age of consent is 16, the relevant age in relation to indecent images is 18.

Who are Safeline?

If you are worried about sexting either as an adult, parent, guardian or child, please contact Safeline. We offer face to face counselling and a helpline (0808 800 5008) you can contact to seek advice or information. The helplines are open six days a week (Monday to Saturday) and there’s a UK dedicated male helpline (0808 800 5005).

Safeline enlists Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) to provide emotional and practical support for people that choose to report their abuse to the police, as well as providing training to educate professionals and parents to protect and support people and their communities.

If you are concerned that an intimate image has been shared online the Revenge Porn Helpline offer practical assistance in reporting and removing content online. You can contact them on 0345 6000 459.

Safeline Services for Children

Safeline Young People


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