Girls Pay a Higher Price for Sexting than Boys

Posted on July 9th, 2012

Girls have always been held to a different standard than boys. It’s not fair, but the double standard still exists, as many teenage girls are learning the hard way.

Boys can (and do) request and send nude or sexually suggestive photos with few negative consequences (though this type of behavior is never truly consequence-free). Girls, on the other hand, are being ridiculed, extorted and publicly humiliated by the same behavior. Here are some of the consequences to watch out for, especially if you’re a teenage girl or a parent of a teenage girl:

Risky Sex. In a recent study from the University of Texas, researchers found that nearly 30 percent of teens are sexting and more than half have been asked to send a naked picture of themselves to someone. Although sexting is common, almost all of the girls surveyed were bothered at least a little by the request for an explicit photo, and more than one-quarter were bothered a lot – yet they still sent it. Interestingly, only 3 percent of the boys surveyed were bothered by requests for sexts.

The girls who sexted were more likely to have had sex and to have engaged in risky sex, such as having multiple partners or using drugs or alcohol before sex. For boys, sexting led to risky sex far less often and only when they had been asked for a sext. Research has long shown that girls are already at greater risk of complications from risky sex, such as unwanted pregnancy and contracting a sexually transmitted disease.

Why do girls sext if they don’t want to? In large part, it boils down to peer pressure. In a poll by MTV/Associated Press, nearly half of the youth surveyed who shared sexually suggestive pictures of themselves felt pressure to do so. A girl who wants to get the guy, be popular, fit in or just have some fun may feel that sexting is both normal and expected.

Photo-Sharing and Tarnished Reputations. Once you send a sext, the image may take on a life of its own. If posted online, it can be difficult if not impossible to remove it. Months, even years later, it might be available to colleges and future employers with embarrassing – and life-altering – consequences.

Explicit photos can – and often do – end up in the wrong hands. Cell phones can be lost or hacked, and pictures are routinely shared. After all, what teenage boy would receive a sext and keep it to himself?

Even in committed relationships that seem to be based on mutual caring and respect, many young women have been shocked and humiliated when their very personal photos were circulated to their boyfriend’s friends, girls at school, parents and other authority figures. People change and relationships change, especially during adolescence when youth are still figuring out who they are and what their values are.

In the MTV/Associated Press poll, nearly one in five of the 1,200 teens surveyed who received sexts said they passed them on to someone else and 50 percent admitted they forwarded the pictures to multiple recipients. In extreme cases, some teens have switched schools or even committed suicide after their ex-boyfriends took their private sexts public, leading to intense ridicule and humiliation. Extortion schemes have been reported by some, in which the recipient of a sext threatened to share the pictures with the sender’s employer, post them on Facebook or send them to friends if they didn’t comply with their requests for money, sex or favors.

While these threats apply to both boys and girls, young women are more often exposed to public ridicule and ruined reputations and labeled "sluts" after sending nude texts. They don’t want to be viewed as promiscuous, but they also don’t want to be labeled a "tease" for sexting without taking the relationship to the next level. It’s a no-win situation for many girls.

Depression. A study by the Education Development Center in Massachusetts found that sexting may increase the risk of depression (a mental health disorder that disproportionately affects women). Young people involved in sexting were twice as likely to report depressive symptoms as those who weren’t involved in sexting, and were more likely to report a suicide attempt.

Exposure to Predators. Sexters also may unknowingly expose themselves to stalkers and predators, who may demand sex or they will send the images to the sender’s parents, the police or other authority figures. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 25 percent of the children who became victims of online porn originally sent the images themselves.

Legal Repercussions. Young people who take or store nude photos of their underage girlfriends or boyfriends on their cell phones or computers could be prosecuted under felony child pornography laws, even if they never send the picture. Both sender and recipient might face prison time and placement on the sex offender registry, which have long-term implications for involvement in sports, scholarships, college and career.

At a time when everything is done by text, from asking someone out to foreplay to the big break-up, young people are wise to think twice before sexting. Make your decision based on what’s right for you, not what other people are doing or what you think will make you popular.

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