With the rise of cell phone communication came the rise of sexting. This often occurs with teenagers and can be a form of sexual harassment when unsolicited. A study published in sex roles explores how teenage girls experience receiving unwanted penis photos.
Sending nudity to a minor or taking nudity while underage are illegal in the UK. Despite this, nearly half of women report receiving an unsolicited penis photo before the age of 18. Previous research shows that the primary motive for sending a penis photo is to receive a nude photo of the recipient in return, with other reasons including showing off or as a power move. Sending unsolicited nudity is a form of sexual harassment, but women are often blamed for not better managing their risk online when they receive it.
Researcher Jessica Ringrose and her colleagues created focus groups of young people between the ages of 11 and 18 from 7 different secondary schools in the UK. Workshops were created to understand how young people take, share and receive sexual images. The first part of the focus group focused on discussing the rules on taking and sharing photos. Participants were then asked to draw some of the experiences they had had. They were also asked to come up with ideas for better digital sex education.
The results showed that 76% of the teen girls surveyed had received a picture of a dick before and 70% of them had been asked to submit nude photos of themselves before. The teens shared that most of the penis photos they received were not asked for or wanted, but they felt they could not report it. Many participants shared that it felt easier to simply block or ignore the sender, particularly when the sender was a stranger, and that this was so commonplace that it was no longer shocking.
Girls reported being stigmatized for receiving penis photos from their peers and shared that it had the connotation that they should have sent something in return. This situation was described as difficult to manage, and the girls did not feel that they could easily block or eliminate their peers, as they could with strangers.
This study advanced our understanding of sexual harassment of adolescent girls for unsolicited nudity. Despite this, it has some limitations. First, focus groups can encourage participants to match their response to others to fit within the group, which can make the data less accurate. Also, all participants were from the UK and these experiences may differ by country.
“In this article, we have tried to highlight the normalization of unsolicited penis photos sent to girls aged 11-18. Our research confirms and extends previous research that suggested penis photos have become a ubiquitous part of young people’s digital sexual cultures,” the researchers concluded.
“We found that our participants for the most part lacked a framework for understanding these experiences as harassment, and generally did not report these practices. Instead, they ignored or blocked the senders, but doing so was more difficult when the sender was a known boy from the peer group at school.”
“We advocate for a change in terminology to understand the sharing of digital sexual images of youth, replacing victim-blaming narratives and abstinence messages stemming from the criminalization of all sexual images of youth, to focus on how and when sharing and receiving images are non-consensual, harassing and abusive,” the researchers said.
The study, “Adolescent Girls’ Experiences Negotiating the Ubiquitous Penis Photo: Sexual Double Standards and the Normalization of Image-Based Sexual Harassment,” was authored by Jessica Ringrose, Kaitlyn Regehr, and Sophie Whitehead.