Sexting research highlights the importance of teaching teenagers consent

Aoibhín Meghen

Research from the National Anti-Bullying Centre in DCU found that almost half of surveyed secondary students have been frequently asked to send sexually explicit messages (sexts).

According to the study entitled ‘It’s not just sexy pics: An investigation into sexting behaviour and behavioural problems in adolescents’ 44 percent of teenagers have  frequently been asked to send sexts which may include text messages, photos or videos.

Girls were almost twice as likely to be asked to sext then boys. 29.5 percent of females surveyed versus 15.2 percent of males.

Girls were also more likely to receive unsolicited sexts. According to the report almost 22 per cent of females were frequently sent sexts that they did not want.

This finding is concerning for Mairead Foody, head researcher on this report. Foody says that although much of their findings fit with previous research and literature, the team were surprised to see the number of unsolicited images being received by girls.

“Girls in particular were frequently receiving sexual images that they had not requested,” says Foody.

She said that researchers were not concerned about sexting “if it forms part of healthy and consensual relationships,” however, their findings on unsolicited sexting were worrying.

“Non-consensual sharing of sexual images as this can cause victimisation and is a form of online sexual harassment and abuse,” says Foody.

Foody feels that the topic of consent in the online sphere is something that needs to be addressed more often in order to protect young people.

Currently DCU Students’ Union is hosting its annual Sexual Health Awareness and Guidance (SHAG) Fest.

A major focus this year is on consent and image based sexual assault (IBSA) according to Vice President for Welfare and Equality, Dean O’Reilly.

The events are guided by the principle that “sexual activity or relationships or sexual health or any sort of them within that sphere, should be guided by consent and should be fun and should be enjoyable,” says O’Reilly.

SHAG Fest, previously called SHAG Week, is an event that takes place across Irish universities in partnership with the Union of Students of Ireland.

According to O’Reilly SHAG Fest “adds on to the lack of sexual health education that we see at second level and the lack of diversity and nuance within the sexual health education.”

It is designed to educate students on consent, boundaries and healthy relationships, as well as body positivity, and “empower students to feel like they have control over their sexual lives,” O’Reilly explains.

O’Reilly feels that research like that done by The National Anti-Bullying Centre is essential to having a healthy discussion about relationships and sex.

He believes that you can’t “have any meaningful conversation about sexual health or sexual relationships without that base knowledge of covering what consent is and covering what a healthy relationship could look like and how to navigate that communication.”

Foody is of a similar view, she feels “that young people themselves are discussing consent more than ever before but it is not considered in the online space as much.”

“We need to ask consent to send and share pictures of other people at all times, but especially if they are of sexual nature.”

The research from the National Anti-Bullying Centre in DCU surveyed 848 teenagers from schools across Ireland between the ages of 15 and 18.

Aoibhín Meghen

Image Credit: Sasun Bughdaryan on Unsplash