Regulations and the law have fallen behind the realities of modern life and sexuality, the submission argues. Photo: Glen MccurtayneThe younger a teenager is when they have sex for the first time, the more likely they are to send sexually explicit pictures of themselves to others, new research shows.
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In what is believed to be one of the first studies of its kind to show the link between early sexualisation and sexting, Deakin University found that 70 per cent of young people who lost their virginity at 14 had sexted.

Sixty per cent of people who had sex for the first time at 16 had sexted, while only 46 per cent of people who were 18 had. Meanwhile, young women who viewed pornography were 3.5 times as likely to send a sexually explicit image of themselves as those who didn’t.

“Sexting is more a risky sexual behaviour fuelled by porn culture than anything else,” Deakin University researcher Bianca Klettke said of the preliminary findings of her study. “In our sample it had a lot to do with sexualisation.”

Dr Klettke said that while her study showed a steady decline in the proportion of people sexting as the age of first-time sex increased, it found no links between mental health or family functioning and young people’s propensity to sext. She suggested more research needed to be done to establish whether there were negative mental health consequences for people who had sexted.

The online survey of more than 400 young people aged 18-21 found half had sent a sexually explicit picture of themselves to someone else. Of those that had sexted, four in 10 had done so 10 or more times. “It’s a lot,” Dr Klettke said. “And then they’re all out there.”

While three quarters sent the picture to a girlfriend or boyfriend, 13 per cent had sent it to a complete stranger they had met online. Males were three times as likely as females to pass on a sext to a third party. Half the young people said they had decided against sending a sext at least once, mostly because they feared it would be passed on to someone without their permission.

Echoing findings of previous sexting research by the Australian Institute of Criminology, most teenagers Deakin surveyed said they sexted to be fun and flirty, or to initiate sexual activity. None of them felt bullied into sexting, but a third did say they sent a sexually explicit picture because they were asked to, while 10 per cent felt pressure to do so.

Dr Klettke said sexting was both a normal way for teenagers to explore their sexuality, and a risky behaviour that could have disastrous consequences if the image is later used as revenge porn when a relationship turns sour.

“For a lot of people they use it as a tool to improve their relationship,” she said. “But what if the relationship breaks down and the images are passed on?”

Dr Klettke found that young people were much less likely to sext if they were aware of the potential legal ramifications, and the possibility the images could be used to bully them, or affect their relationships and future job prospects.

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