A new study published in the journal Sexual Health found that among people who received sexts—sexual images sent via phone or email—23 percent reported sharing them with others. This high rate occurs even though 73 percent of respondents expressed discomfort with the “unauthorized sharing of sexts beyond intended recipients.”
According to “Sexting Among Singles in the USA: Prevalence of Sending, Receiving, and Sharing Sexual Messages and Images,” people who shared sexts reported that they did so with an average of more than three friends. The leader of the study, Justin Garcia, an assistant professor of gender studies at Indiana University and a research scientist at the Kinsey Institute, told Science Daily:
The real risk of sexting is the potential for nonconsensual sharing of sext messages. It raises the question that if someone sends something to you with the presumption that it’s private and then you share it with others—which, when it comes to sexting, nearly one out of every four single Americans are doing, what do we want to consider that type of violation? Is it just bad taste? Is it criminal?
Should we be surprised that so many people share sexts? Probably not. Individuals regularly discuss the intimate details of their sex lives in conversation—if they happen to have images handy, it really shouldn’t be shocking that they share them. Just because it isn’t surprising, doesn’t make it OK, of course.
As Garcia noted, sexts need to be part of our understanding of consent. Partners should have clear conversations about how they expect intimate images to be treated. And one finding in the new study suggests an area where these discussions are particularly important: Women were more likely to be upset about sharing than men, but men were twice as likely as women to share.