Sexual trophy, revenge porn, or just a prank?

An Examination of Gendered Sexting Practices in 7 U.S. Universities

Connoisseurs (Date: 1799)Thomas Rowlandson, British, 1756 - 1827.

Recent technological developments have expanded the ways that we create, view, and share images of the body. As part of this trend, an increasing number of people engage in sexting, sharing sexually explicit digital images of their bodies with others.

While scholars in the fields of medicine, psychology, and criminology have begun to study the prevalence of sexting among adolescents and young adults and the risks associated with this behavior, little is known about what young adults’ sexting practices may reveal about if and how beliefs about gender and sexuality are changing. Sexting is a useful case for exploration because it is a unique interaction in which sexual bodies are displayed and evaluated that can easily be transformed from private to public.

In this dissertation project, my goal is to identify the different types of sexting practices that college students engage in and determine what these practices can tell us about changing gender and sexuality beliefs to address the overarching question, what types of sexting practices do college students engage in and how are these practices gendered?

During the 2018 - 2019 academic year, I distributed an electronic survey to gather comprehensive data on the frequency and nature of college students’ engagement in sexting, because no in-depth quantitative data on this topic currently exists. I distributed the survey at seven universities across the US to capture geographic and racial diversity. I collected approximately 1,700 survey responses that provide rich data on undergraduate students’ experiences sharing and receiving sexual images.

I also conducted 101 in-depth interviews to develop a more comprehensive understanding of college students' sexting practices. In addition to learning about the specific practices that students engage in, I have developed greater insights into how students' engagement changes over time, why they engage in certain sexting practices and not others, and how these practices and purposes are gendered.