Concise report: Teenage sexting on the rise? Results of a cohort study using a weighted sample of adolescents

Joris Van Ouytsel, Michel Walrave, Lieven De Marez, Kristin Van Damme, Ralf De Wolf, Bastiaan Baccarne, Bart Vanhaelewyn, Koen Ponnet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The vast differences in sampling techniques, cultural contexts between international studies, the differences in age groups of the samples and various definitions used to measure sexting make it hard to compare how sexting behaviour has evolved over the past years. This exploratory study aims to address this critical gap in the research by using two datasets of a biennial study on adolescents' media use. The first aim of this study is to compare the sexting prevalence and correlates (i.e. age, gender and smartphone ownership) of youth in 2015 and 2017. The second aim is to investigate the risk mitigation behaviours of youth who engage in sexting and to assess how their behaviours differ between the two time points. Methods: The data for cohort 1 were collected in October and November 2015 and comprise of 2663 students from 11 secondary schools in the Dutch-speaking community of Belgium. For the second cohort, the data were collected in October and November 2017 and comprise of 2681 students from 10 secondary schools. A weighing factor was implemented on the dataset. Results: The results show sexting behaviour has significantly increased between cohorts, with 8.3% of the respondents having sent a sext in the first cohort, compared with 12.1% in the second cohort. The sexting prevalence rates also significantly increased between cohorts when taking into account students who owned a smartphone. Furthermore, engagement in sexting was associated with being older, and no gender differences were found. In the second cohort, 36.8% of youth who had sent a sext were identifiable in those images. There were no differences between cohorts. Conclusion: The results indicate that other factors next to smartphone ownership may be associated with an increase in sexting prevalence. The findings also highlight the need for the development of age-appropriate sexting educational materials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)178-181
Number of pages4
JournalSexual Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • adolescents
  • e-safety
  • sexuality
  • smartphones

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases


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