Teens' experiences with sexting: A grounded theory study



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Easy access to social networking sites and smartphones has allowed the Internet to play an increasingly central role in the exploration and expression of adolescent sexuality. Online sexual behavior in turn has played a role in the social and sexual development of adolescents. Within a climate of online sexual behavior, a phenomenon referred to as sexting has emerged. Sexting blends the words sex and texting and generally refers to the sending, receiving, and forwarding of sexually explicit messages, images, photos, or videos via communication technologies. The purpose of this study was to explore and understand the relationship between sexting behavior and adolescent mental health and emotional well-being from adolescents’ perspectives. A constructivist grounded theory study was conducted to explore adolescents’ experiences of sexting. Engaging in the Culture of Teen Sexting materialized as the central process and the title for the grounded theory that emerged. Six primary processes emerged as part of the theory including Engaging in the Culture of Teen Sexting, Motivating Factors, Forming Perceptions and Feelings, Acknowledging and Managing Risks, Connecting Mental Health and Sexting, and Finding a Sexual Self. The findings of the study revealed that sexting is a part of normal sexual growth and development and a part of teen culture. Moving away from a risk aversive stance of sexting toward a normal growth and development perspective shifts the focus from shaming and punishing to helping adolescents process both good and bad experiences related to sexting. Providing guidance to help teens manage the risks of sexting and work through the tensions experienced during sexting will support emotional well-being and aid teens in finding a sexual identity.



Adolescent, Teen, Sexting, Mental health, Emotional well-being, Constructivist grounded theory