Sexting is using digital technology to send, receive or share sexually suggestive images or videos of people naked or partially naked. It can also include sexual messages or emojis.
People use text messages, emails, online games and/or social media for sexting.
Consensual sexting includes:
- sending a nude to someone who’s happy to receive it
- asking for a nude from someone who’s happy to send it.
Non-consensual sexting includes:
- sending a nude to someone who doesn’t want it
- harassing someone to send a nude
- sharing a nude without consent.
Young people might call it sexting, and they might also use terms like ‘nudes’, ‘noods’, ‘dick pics’ or ‘sexy pics’.
What teenagers wish their parents knew about sexting
You might think that sexting is something risky, dangerous and illegal.
For teenagers, consensual sexting is often fun and sexy. They might also see sexting as part of building romantic relationships and self-confidence, and exploring sexuality, bodies and identities.
Young people do worry about their images being shared with other people, including friends and family members. Many try to reduce this risk by choosing images that don’t expose their identities.
Talking with teenagers about sexting: why it’s important
Young people want to be able to talk openly and honestly with their parents about sexting. And talking with your child is the best way to help your child learn about:
- what sexting is and what to do if they see or get a nude
- what the legal risks of sexting are
- what the consequences of sexting can be
- whether sexting can be part of a respectful relationship.
How to start a conversation about sexting
Talking with your child about sexting can be part of talking about sexuality.
Here are questions that can get a conversation going:
- Do you know people at school who’ve sent or received a nude?
- Do they do it for fun or to flirt?
- Was it their idea to send the photo, or did someone persuade them to?
- What do you know about people sharing sexual images of someone to get revenge?
- How would you feel and what would you do if you received an unwanted nude?
- Do you have any questions about things you’ve heard?
If your child has questions about sexting, try to answer them as honestly, openly and non-judgmentally as you can. If you have concerns about the risks of sexting, you could explain your concerns and why you’d prefer your child didn’t send nudes.
If you find it hard to talk with your child about topics like sexting, it might help to know that this often gets easier the more you do it.
Sexting risks: how to explain them to teenagers
Your child needs to know that sexting or sending nudes has risks, like the risk of images being shared without consent. For example, you might say, ‘Once you send a photo to someone, you lose control of it. Someone could see it on your friend’s phone, or it could be shared with other people or put on social media’.
You could also encourage your child to think about what might happen if they break up or fall out with someone who has sexual images of them. For example, sexting that was consensual could become non-consensual if that person shares the images to get revenge on your child.
You could also explain that once images are online, they can be very difficult to remove.
It’s also important to help your child understand the legal consequences of sexting.
Respectful relationships: a good way to protect teenagers from sexting risks
The best way to protect your child from the risks of sexting is to talk about respectful relationships.
You can explain to your child that sexting is a sexual activity. All sexual acts – including sexting – need consent from a partner.
Breaching consent by sharing a sext isn’t respectful or OK. It’s also not OK to share other people’s sexts or to send a nude to someone who hasn’t asked for one. This is called image-based abuse, and it’s considered illegal in Australia.
It’s important for your child to know that they have a right to say ‘no’. For example, ‘It’s never OK for someone to pressure you into doing anything sexual, including sending sexual photos of yourself’.
It’s a good idea for your child to think about how to check for consent. For example, your child could say, ‘OK. I'll send you a nude. But it's not OK for you to share it with anyone else’, or ‘I'd like to see a nude of you. Would it be OK for you to send me one?’ It’s also a good idea for your child to practise saying no. For example, your child could use humour by saying ‘Yes, why not?’ and then send a picture of an animal or a stick person. Or your child could just say, ‘No, I don’t send nudes’.
Why sexting can be a serious issue for teenagers
Non-consensual sexting can be harmful to teenagers.
If a sexual photo or video of your child is shared online, it could be posted to social media sites, or forwarded to friends and people your child doesn’t even know. These images can become part of your child’s digital footprint and stay in the public domain forever.
If people have seen sexual photos of your child, your child might feel guilty, ashamed and uncomfortable about doing ordinary things like going to school or playing sports. The situation can be humiliating, and your child might feel that their reputation has been damaged. It can also harm friendships and social networks.
Sexting can expose your child to bullying, harassment, blackmail or image-based abuse. For example, when people share images, they might also post nasty comments, attack your child’s reputation, call your child names, ask for money in exchange for not sharing the image, ask for more images or make other inappropriate demands.
If your child is being bullied, harassed or abused because of sexting, your child needs to know it isn’t their fault. Your child also needs your help and support to work through practical solutions to sexting problems. Feelings of sexual shame or regret can lead to depression or even suicidal thoughts in extreme cases. You and your child can get support by contacting headspace on 1800 650 890, Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, or Lifeline on 131 114.
Sexting and the law
The laws about sexting in Australia are complex.
In all states and territories except Tasmania, non-consensual sharing of sexts is illegal.
In some states and territories, consensual sexting has been decriminalised – for example, when someone under the age of 18 years engages in consensual sexting with someone who’s no more than 2 years younger than them.