Sexuality Research and Social Policy

, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 192–207 | Cite as

“What Should I Do?”: Young Women’s Reported Dilemmas with Nude Photographs

  • Sara E. ThomasEmail author


Sexting and sending nude and semi-nude photographs continues to be at the forefront of discourse pertaining to adolescence. While researchers have explored consequences for sexting, less is known about the challenges adolescents face when making decisions about sending photographs. Using online personal accounts posted by adolescents, this study explores young women’s reported dilemmas with sending nude photographs to their peers. A thematic analysis of 462 stories reveals that young women received conflicting messages which told them both to send and refrain from sending photographs. In addition to sending photographs in the hope of gaining a relationship, young women also reported sending photographs as the result of coercion by male counterparts in the form of persistent requests, anger, and threats. Young women attempted to navigate young men’s coercive behaviors yet frequently resorted to compliance. Refusal was often met with repeated requests or threats. Alternative tactics were largely absent from young women’s stories, indicating that young women do not have tools to successfully navigate the challenges they face.


Adolescence Sexting Dating violence Gender Digital media Relationships 



The author wishes to thank Viacom for access to this data, Northwestern University faculty members Simone Ispa-Landa, Jim Spillane, and Daniella Hall, and University of Illinois at Chicago graduate student Emily Machado for feedback on the analytical framing of this paper. Additionally, I wish to thank an anonymous reviewer and Northwestern University faculty member Jon Guryan for comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors have no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals

This research involved the use of existing data provided through a license with Viacom. The data provided came from publicly available, non-identifiable information.


  1. Acosta, A. B., & Temple, J. R. (2013). Emerging issues in child and adolescent health: Social media, sexting, and cyber bullying.Google Scholar
  2. Albury, K., Hasinoff, A.A., & Senft, T. (2016). From media abstinence to media production: Sexting, young people and education. In The Palgrave handbook of sexuality education (Vol. 13, pp. 527–545). London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.Google Scholar
  3. Bobkowski, P. S., Shafer, A., & Ortiz, R. R. (2016). Sexual intensity of adolescents' online self-presentations: Joint contribution of identity, media consumption, and extraversion. Comput Hum Behav, 58, 64–74. Scholar
  4. Boislard, M.-A., & Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J. (2011). Sexual subjectivity, relationship status and quality, and same-sex sexual experience among emerging adult females. Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology, 1(1), 54. Scholar
  5. Boyd, D. (2015). It's complicated: The social lives of networked teens. Yale University Press: Place of publication not identified.Google Scholar
  6. Carver, K., Joyner, K., & Udry, J. R. (2003). National estimates of adolescent romantic relationships. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.Google Scholar
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Key statistics from the national survey of family growth. doi:papers3://publication/uuid/7F8142BF-DD37-4F88-B35F-D02C814C49D1.
  8. Chow, C. M., & Ruhl, H. (2014). Friendship and romantic stressors and depression in emerging adulthood: Mediating and moderating roles of attachment representations. J Adult Dev.
  9. Crofts, T., & Lee, M. (2013). Sexting, children and child pornography. Sydney L Rev. doi:papers3://publication/uuid/E26465B2-DD5E-4ABF-BE70-CCB0EE79F45A.Google Scholar
  10. Dahl, R. E. (2004). Adolescent brain development: A period of vulnerabilities and opportunities. Annals of New York Academy Sciences, 1021, 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Davis, K. (2012). Friendship 2.0: Adolescents' experiences of belonging and self-disclosure online: The intersection of identity development processes and peer relationship experiences (English). J Adolesc, 35(6), 1527–1536.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. DeGue, S., & DiLillo, D. (2005). “You would if you loved me”: Toward an improved conceptual and etiological understanding of nonphysical male sexual coercion. Aggress Violent Behav, 10(4), 513–532. Scholar
  13. Diamond, L.M., & Savin-Williams, R.C. (2009). Adolescent sexuality. Handbook of adolescent psychology. Google Scholar
  14. Drouin, M., & Tobin, E. (2014). Unwanted but consensual sexting among young adults: Relations with attachment and sexual motivations. Comput Hum Behav, 31, 412–418. Scholar
  15. Drouin, M., Vogel, K. N., Surbey, A., & Stills, J. R. (2013). Let’s talk about sexting, baby: Computer-mediated sexual behaviors among young adults. Comput Hum Behav, 29(5), A25–A30. Scholar
  16. Englander, E. K. (2012). Low risk associated with most teenage sexting: a study of 617 18-year-olds. MARC Research Reports, 6.Google Scholar
  17. Erikson, E.H. (1950). Identity and the life cycle.Google Scholar
  18. Fetterolf, J. C., & Sanchez, D. T. (2014). The costs and benefits of perceived sexual agency for men and women. Arch Sex Behav, 44(4), 961–970. Scholar
  19. Fine, M., & McClelland, S. (2006). Sexuality education and desire: Still missing after all these years. Harv Educ Rev, 76(3), 297–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fry, D. A., Messinger, A. M., Rickert, V. I., O’Connor, M. K., Palmetto, N., Lessel, H., & Davidson, L. L. (2013). Adolescent relationship violence: Help-seeking and help-giving behaviors among peers. Journal of Urban Health, 91(2), 320–334. Scholar
  21. Hasinoff, A.A. (2015). Sexting panic rethinking criminalization, privacy, and consent. University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  22. Hillier, L., Harrison, L., & Warr, D. (1998). “When you carry condoms all the boys think you want it”: Negotiating competing discourses about safe sex. J Adolesc, 21(1), 15–29. Scholar
  23. Johnson, M. K., Crosnoe, R., & Elder Jr., G. H. (2011). Insights on adolescence from a life course perspective. J Res Adolesc, 21(1), 273–280. Scholar
  24. Kann, L. (2016). Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2015. MMWR Surveill Summ, 65(6), 1–174.  10.15585/mmwr.ss6506a1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Karaian, L. (2012). Lolita speaks: ‘Sexting,’ teenage girls and the law. Crime, Media, Culture, 8(1), 57–73. Scholar
  26. Kim, J. E., Weinstein, E. C., & Selman, R. L. (2015). Romantic relationship advice from anonymous online helpers: The peer support adolescents exchange. Youth & Society.
  27. Lee, M., & Crofts, T. (2015). Gender, pressure, coercion and pleasure: Untangling motivations for sexting between young people. Br J Criminol, 55(3), 454–473. Scholar
  28. Lippman, J. R., & Campbell, S. W. (2014). Damned if you do, damned if you don't…if you're a girl: Relational and normative contexts of adolescent sexting in the United States. Journal of Children and Media, 8(4), 371–386. Scholar
  29. Martin, K.A. (1996). Puberty, sexuality, and the self. Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. Meston, C. M., & Buss, D. M. (2007). Why humans have sex. Arch Sex Behav, 36(4), 477–507.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Miller-Ott, A. E., Kelly, L., & Duran, R. L. (2012). The effects of cell phone usage rules on satisfaction in romantic relationships. Commun Q, 60(1), 17–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mitchell, K. J., Finkelhor, D., Jones, L. M., & Wolak, J. (2012). Prevalence and characteristics of youth sexting: A national study. Pediatrics, 129(1), 13–20. Scholar
  33. Peterson, Z. D., & Muehlenhard, C. L. (2007). What is sex and why does it matter? A motivational approach to exploring individuals' definitions of sex. Journal of Sex Research, 44(3), 256–268.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Rauer, A. J., Pettit, G. S., Lansford, J. E., Bates, J. E., & Dodge, K. A. (2013). Romantic relationship patterns in young adulthood and their developmental antecedents. Dev Psychol, 49(11), 2159–2171. Scholar
  35. Ringrose, J., Harvey, L., Gill, R., & Livingstone, S. (2013). Teen girls, sexual double standards and 'sexting': Gendered value in digital image exchange. Feminist Theory, 14(3), 305–323. Scholar
  36. Sanday, P. R. (2013). Fraternity gang rape. New York, NY: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Schalet, A. T. (2011). Not under my roof: Parents, teens, and the culture of sex. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Šmahel, D., & Subrahmanyam, K. (2014). Adolescent sexuality on the internet: A developmental perspective.Google Scholar
  39. Steinberg, L., & Morris, A. S. (2001). Adolescent Development. Annu Rev Psychol, 52, 83–110.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Strassberg, D. S., McKinnon, R. K., Sustaita, M. A., & Rullo, J. (2013). Sexting by high school students: An exploratory and descriptive study. Arch Sex Behav, 42(1), 15–21. Scholar
  41. Stroud, S. R. (2014). The dark side of the online self: A pragmatist critique of the growing plague of revenge porn. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 29(3), 168–183. Scholar
  42. Subrahmanyam, K., Greenfield, P. M., & Tynes, B. (2004). Constructing sexuality and identity in an online teen chat room. J Appl Dev Psychol, 25(6), 651–666. Scholar
  43. Suler, J. (2006). The online disinhibition effect. Int J Appl Psychoanal Stud, 2(2), 184–188. Scholar
  44. Temple, J. R., Le, V. D., van den Berg, P., Ling, Y., Paul, J. A., & Temple, B. W. (2014). Brief report: Teen sexting and psychosocial health. J Adolesc, 37(1), 33–36. Scholar
  45. Vanden Abeele, M., Campbell, S. W., Eggermont, S., & Roe, K. (2014). Sexting, mobile porn use, and peer group dynamics: Boys' and girls' self-perceived popularity, need for popularity, and perceived peer pressure. Media Psychology, 17(1), 6–33. Scholar
  46. Weinstein, E. C., & Selman, R. L. (2014). Digital stress: Adolescents' personal accounts. New Media Soc.
  47. Willig, C. (2013). Introducing qualitative research in psychology: Adventures in theory and method. England: Open University Press/McGraw-Hill Education.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Education and Social PolicyNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

Personalised recommendations