“When It Deviates It Becomes Harassment, Doesn’t It?” A Qualitative Study on the Definition of Sexting According to Adolescents and Young Adults, Parents, and Teachers

  • Yara Barrense-DiasEmail author
  • Joan-Carles Surís
  • Christina Akre
Original Paper


Sexting was originally made public by dramatic consequences involving youths with contents that were disseminated and then used as a base for harassment. Despite a growing public and research interest, there is no consensus regarding its definition and measurements. As part of a larger qualitative study on sexting, we aimed to gather and compare opinions and perceptions of 32 youths (16–21 years) and 29 adults (11 parents and 18 teachers) on how sexting can be defined. Different constituent elements were discussed in terms of knowledge, mediums (text-only, photographs, videos, etc.), characteristics, actions (receiving, sending, disseminating, etc.) and contexts. The knowledge and the use of the term sexting was approximate for several participants. Youths used more suggestive elements in their definition and the vast majority of them defined sexting as an activity that could be positive and respectful between two consenting persons. It is necessary to develop a precise and consensual definition of sexting by separating different dimensions and by using a specific vocabulary according to youth perceptions as their main definition of sexting seems to be different from the one of most adults. Prevention messages should aim to reduce the risks by targeting the problems linked to sexting rather than prohibiting sexting per se. This exploratory study could pave the way for a clearer definition and measurement of sexting.


Sexting Adolescents Parents Teachers Qualitative research 



We thank all focus group participants. We also thank Belinda Forny and Pierre-Olivier Gaudard for their suggestions for the interview guide.


This work was supported by the Service of Public Health of the Canton de Vaud. The sponsor source had no role in the study design, collection of data, data analysis and interpretation of results, the writing of the manuscript and the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yara Barrense-Dias
    • 1
    Email author
  • Joan-Carles Surís
    • 1
  • Christina Akre
    • 1
  1. 1.Research Group on Adolescent Health, Institute of Social and Preventive MedicineLausanne University HospitalLausanneSwitzerland

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