Sex selfies ‘normal and fun’ for kids

Sex selfies are becoming increasingly more common.
Sex selfies are becoming increasingly more common.
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Many young people choose to share naked selfies despite knowing the risks because they see it as a “normal and fun” part of relationships, a worrying study has shown.

Researchers discovered that some children as young as 12 are sharing nude images through their phones and social media.

And for many of the study group, consisting of people who had shared naked photos under the age of 18, it was a natural way of exploring their sexuality and something they did with a trusted partner.

But some admitted they were coerced and threatened, often by strangers they met online.

The study – called Self Produced Images – Risk Taking Online (SPIRTO) – also revealed the difficulty police, parents and schools faced in trying to differentiate between normal behaviour and abuse.

Dr Ethel Quayle, from Edinburgh University, said: “The experiences of the young people varied from coercive online grooming where children were pressured to produce images by use of aggressive threats, to the other end of the spectrum where the images were produced in a romantic and caring relationship.

“In between we saw different levels of what might be thought of as coercion, where children felt an expectation that sending selfies is what people are doing, and if you didn’t do it there was something wrong with you.

“The consequences of sending the images were not always absolutely catastrophic, but they were for some people.

“The problem is how do we differentiate between sexting, which we may not like or approve of but is taking place in the context of a consensual romantic relationship, from something which we really need to take seriously?”

Dr Quayle has now launched a new study with clinical psychologist Dr Laura Cariola, putting the concerns of children at the heart of policy recommendations.

Youngsters have been asked how police, social workers, teachers and parents can help them when naked selfies are shared without their permission. The preliminary results show that simply being listened to and not judged are the most important things a parent can do to help.

Dr Quayle added: “Maybe we have to accept that where it is not abused by others, the creation of images within a romantic and sexual relationship is part and parcel of growing up for some young people.

“We need to make sure that appropriate support structures are in place for when things may go wrong.”

The results of the study will be presented at the Festival of Social Science event in Edinburgh on November 11.