LOS ANGELES — Last month, law enforcement officers and school administrators launched an effort to crack down on sexting in one Cincinnati-area high school. Hundreds of students are suspected of distributing nude photos of their classmates via cellphones and the Internet. Just 10 girls will face discipline — the ones whose images have circulated most widely.
Officials may think they're tracking the sexting problem to its root by punishing the girls who snapped and sent the photos in the first place. But they're really just reinforcing the lopsided sexual standards of the adolescent selfie market. In a typical American high school, there are just as many guys posing for penis pics as there are girls lifting their shirts. But once those photos hit the schoolwide distribution system, girls' photos travel further.
A new study, published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, illuminates that dynamic. Researchers surveyed 1,000 black and Latino 10th graders in a southeast Texas school district about their sexting habits. Among black teens, 27 percent of girls and 23 percent of boys said they had snapped a nude photo of themselves and passed it along. Among Latino teens, 20 percent of boys and 17 percent of girls had done the same. So selfies in this school district are split pretty evenly along gender lines. And though this study focused on minority teens, researchers said their sexting numbers lined up with rates recorded among "white private high school students" as well as more diverse groups of minors.
It's in the distribution of these images that boys and girls' behavior begins to diverge. When an explicit photograph hits their phones, the teen boys in the study were almost twice as likely as the teen girls to have forwarded it beyond its intended audience. And boys were much more likely than girls to have received one of these errant sexts from an oversharing peer.