Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Valerie A. Simon


Sexting, defined in this study as consensually sending or receiving sexually explicit texts, photos, or videos, is now commonplace during adolescence. Yet, research on adolescent sexting predominantly treats this behavior as risky, focusing on potential deleterious legal and mental health ramifications. This perspective is especially salient for females. Although sexting can have unintended negative consequences, a risk-centered perspective neglects the developmental contexts in which sexting emerges to obscure our ability to identify for whom and when sexting may be normative versus risky. There is a pressing need for a more holistic view of female adolescent sexuality that considers its positive and developmental features as well as its associated risks. The current study embraces this approach to shed light on sexting by examining the onset of girls’ sexting among a sample of 79 urban, mostly African American (73%) youth.

Results indicated that sexting is common in adolescence, and that sexting tended to occur around the same time as genital contact behavior, but typically before sexual intercourse. Additionally, both a normative factor (the number of prior romantic and sexual partners) and a risk factor (prior IPV exposure) were marginally significant predictors of earlier onset of adolescent sexting. Lastly, most teens, regardless of their sexting status, indicated sexual agency as the main reason that they would sext. Pressure was not a salient motivation for girls to sext. Further, of girls who had sexted, those who had sexted early (before age 16), as opposed to later, were more likely to endorse body affirmation motives. These findings provide the foundation for contextualizing sexting within normative sexual and romantic development, and provide insights as to when sexting might be considered normative versus risky. Information gained from this study can inform targeted curricula for promoting sexual health and communication.

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Psychology Commons