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RESEARCH ARTICLE

Prevalence, correlates and attitudes towards sexting among young people in Melbourne, Australia

Timothy H. Yeung A B , Danielle R. Horyniak A C , Alyce M. Vella A , Margaret E. Hellard A C and Megan S. C. Lim A C D

A Burnet Institute, Centre for Population Health, 85 Commercial Road, Melbourne, Vic. 3004, Australia.

B The University of Melbourne, Royal Melbourne Hospital Department of Medicine, Royal Parade, Parkville, Vic. 3050, Australia.

C Monash University, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, 99 Commercial Road, Melbourne, Vic. 3004, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: lim@burnet.edu.au

Sexual Health 11(4) 332-339 https://doi.org/10.1071/SH14032
Submitted: 13 February 2014  Accepted: 2 July 2014   Published: 4 August 2014

Abstract

Background: ‘Sexting’ is the exchange of sexually explicit material via communication technologies. Despite significant media attention, there has been little examination of sexting in the Australian setting. This study aimed to provide insight into sexting behaviours and attitudes among young Australians. Methods: A cross-sectional survey was conducted with a convenience sample of people aged 16–29 years attending a music festival (n = 1372). Correlates of lifetime sexting were determined using multivariate logistic regression. Attitudes towards and perceived consequences of sexting were explored in focus group discussions (FGDs) with 39 young people. Results: Forty percent of survey participants reported that they had ever sent or received a sext (48% of males, 36% of females), most commonly with a regular partner. Lower levels of education, greater recreational spending, greater number of sexual partners, inconsistent condom use with a regular partner, identifying as being nonheterosexual and risky alcohol consumption were all independent correlates of sexting. FGD participants made a clear distinction between consensual creating, sending and possessing of sexts, and nonconsensual sharing of sexts. Positive outcomes of consensual sexting included flirting and sexual experimentation, with sexting perceived as a normalised aspect of sexual interaction. Conclusions: Sexting is a common and normalised practice among young Australians. Our findings highlight the distinction in young people’s minds between consensual sexting and the nonconsensual sharing or circulation of sexts, which is not currently well recognised in sexuality education, the media or the law.

Additional keywords: behaviours, communication, Internet, mobile phone, sexually explicit images, text messaging.


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