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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jewett

Digital romance & lockdown love – sexting expertise from Dr Emily Setty

Updated: Feb 12, 2022

Valentine’s Day is the perfect catalyst for thinking about how young people communicate around love, intimacy, relationships, sex and sexting (aka sending nudes). In studying sexting and consent, Dr Emily Setty – lecturer in criminology at the University of Surrey and author of Risk And Harm In Youth Sexting – has been quizzing young people about how, whether they send or receive images or not, they are part of a sexting culture.

Here she talks to us about dick pics, slut shaming and how to talk with kids about sexting…


The word “sexting” isn’t helpful because it’s not specific enough – it can refer to a message, picture, video or livestream. The term “youth-produced sexual imagery” is becoming more common, but even that isn’t helpful because sometimes it’s not just images and they’re not necessarily just intended to be sexual. Evidence suggests that kids also share intimate or revealing images to be flirty, to arouse or to get feedback on how they look.

The motivation can also be social – when kids experiment with sexting at age 12 or 13 it’s more about peer pressure and that can involve boys trying to get images from girls to show other boys and to shock each other. When kids are aged 15, 16 or 17, two things happen: 1) they see themselves as more relationship orientated and put more thought into intimacy and trust and 2) they’ve become more risk averse because they’ve seen things go wrong.

Young people, especially girls, are being asked for sexual images, but kids who share images of themselves are in a – perhaps substantial – minority. More images get sent round than there are individuals producing them, indicating a widespread distribution which may or may not be consensual on the part of either the sender or the recipient! Interestingly the jury is out as to whether boys sext more than girls – rates are often similar, and that may be because boys are sending dic