Sex Roles

, Volume 80, Issue 9–10, pp 586–606 | Cite as

Meanings of Bodily and Sexual Expression in Youth Sexting Culture: Young Women’s Negotiation of Gendered Risks and Harms

  • Emily SettyEmail author
Original Article


The present paper explores how young people construct gendered social meanings and cultural norms surrounding sexual and bodily expression in youth sexting culture. Previous research suggests youth sexting is a gendered phenomenon in which young men are able to seek social capital through sexting, whereas young women are subject to social shaming and harassment. Drawing upon findings from group and one-to-one interviews with 41 young people aged 14–18, I show how constructs of risk, shame, and responsibility operated along gendered lines. Young people attributed agency and legitimacy to young men’s sexual practices, whereas young women were disempowered, denied legitimacy, and tasked with managing gendered risks of harm in youth sexting culture. I discuss how young women negotiated and navigated risk and shame and, in some instances, made space for safe, pleasurable sexting experiences despite and within these narratives. The accounts of two young women, who shared experiences sexting and social shaming, are presented to show some of the ways young women make sense of social meanings and cultural norms on individual and interpersonal levels. I conclude that challenging gendered harm requires a (re)legitimisation of feminine sexuality and bodily expression away from narratives of risk and shame.


Sexting Young people Gender Sexism Shame 



I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the young people who participated in my research and who spoke about their perceptions and practices so openly and honestly. I am also grateful to the gatekeepers who took their time to facilitate the research. I also thank my supervisors Professor Jon Garland and Dr. Laura Harvey who supported the project. My work was supported by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Surrey through a Faculty Studentship.


This research was funded by a faculty studentship from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Surrey.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

The research involved human participants and informed consent was obtained from all participants in the study. This study was reviewed and received a Favourable Ethical Opinion from the University of Surrey Ethics Committee.

Supplementary material

11199_2018_957_MOESM1_ESM.docx (35 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 34 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Arts and Social SciencesUniversity of SurreySurreyUK

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