Sending sexy images of oneself has become common and, while sharing without consent is illegal, it happens too, according to new research. (Shutterstock)

Sexting common, sharing hurts girls more: survey

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Of Canadians aged 16 to 20, two out of every five have sent a sexy or nude image of themselves, according to a new research. Two out of three have received a so-called sext. The information comes from a national survey of 800 young people conducted last August by MediaSmarts and the University of Toronto in partnership with the telecom, Telus.

Prof. Faye Mishna says it is important to make a clear distinction between sending sexts and sharing sexts.

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Sending is ‘not necessarily a problem,’ says professor

The lead academic for the study makes a clear distinction between sending a sext and sharing a sext. “The actual sending…there is not necessarily a problem,” says Faye Mishna a professor and dean of social work at the University of Toronto.

“I think this is hard for adults to comprehend when we talk about youth. But with the cyber world that we’re living in, sending sexts consensually, mutually,  is becoming more and more kind of common in dating, courting and intimate relationships at different ages.” Mishna specifies she is not saying sexting is never a problem, that it can be and that is why there should be education about it.

‘Abstinence does not work’

“One thing we do know is that…abstinence does not work. Just saying ‘don’t send a sext because it could be shared’ does not work. And it also puts all the responsibility on the sending and not on the sharing it without consent.”

While sending a sext is not necessarily a problem, Mishna says “sharing it without consent is not okay to do. It also is illegal. So, that’s why they need to be separated…it’s very important.”

Of the respondents, 30 per cent had shared a sext without consent and 40 per cent had received one. This study found this was justified by moral disengagement. Respondents agreed with statements suggesting that sharing sexts was so common that nobody cares about it. There was also denial that it caused any harm or the blame was shifted to someone else who shared or onto the victim.

The sharing of sexts without consent is less damaging for boys than it is for girls, says professor. (Shutterstock)

Often victim gets blamed

“These are the kinds of attitudes that are fairly common both by youth and adults in our society, but we found they’re held by a worryingly large number of youth. So, we need to address that,” says Mishna.

An example of worrying results was that almost half agreed that it’s the original sender’s fault if a sext gets shared. And just over one in four thought nobody should be surprised if boys share sexts of girls. And those who held these beliefs were more likely to have shared sexts. Mishna says because of gender stereotypes this behaviour is much more likely to harm girls than boys.

In terms of educating youth, Mishna says adults should explain sending sexts, the problems involved and how to protect oneself. And, in discussing sharing, they should look at responsibility and not blaming the victim.

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