Sexting [verb] = sending a sexually explicit message

The term ‘sexting’ describes the use of technology to share personal sexual content. It’s a word-mix of sex and texting. Young people tend not to use this term but may use other nicknames such as 'nudes', 'nude selfies' or imply these through the context of the message.  


  • Where does the law stand? Open or Close

    If a young person under the age of 18 engages in sexting by creating an explicit photo or video of themselves then they have potentially created an indecent image of a child. By sending this content on to another person, they have distributed an indecent image of a child. By receiving content of this kind from another young person, they are then in possession of an indecent image of a child. 

    The National Police Chiefs' Council of England, Wales and Northern Ireland have stated that young people engaging in sexting should not face prosecution as first time offenders, but the situation will be investigated to ensure the young people involved are not at risk. Repeat offenders and more extreme cases are reviewed differently, still with a focus on avoiding prosecution unless absolutely necessary. 

  • What other risks are there? Open or Close

    Reputation damage: with young people connecting via a wide range of technologies and social media sites, sexting content can be distributed to other users very quickly. This prevents the young person from controlling where the content is posted. This can result in damage to a young person's reputation in their school or local community, and in online communities. As content posted online can potentially exist forever in the public domain, this can have longer term effects on a young person's reputation and aspirations. 

    Emotional and psychological damage: the distribution of sexting content to others can cause distress and upset to the young person involved, especially if the content is distributed by someone they entrusted it to. The effects of others seeing this content can lead to negative comments and bullying, and may result in a young person losing confidence or self esteem, and in extreme cases could lead to depression and other physical harm. 

  • What advice is there for schools? Open or Close

    The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) Education Group has produced advice for schools and colleges on responding to incidents of 'sexting.' The advice aims to support you in tackling the range of issues which these incidents present including responding to disclosures, handling devices and imagery, risk assessing situations and involving other agencies. The advice also contains information about preventative education, working with parents and reporting imagery to providers. This advice is non-statutory and should be read alongside the Department for Education's Keeping Children Safe in Education statutory guidance and non-statutory Searching, Screening and Confiscation advice for schools. 

  • What else do I need to know? Open or Close

    The content can vary, from text messages to images of partial nudity to sexual images or video. This content is usually created to be sent to a partner, but can be between groups or even for a dare. Such images can be created using a range of mobile devices, technologies and online spaces. Photos and videos are often created via webcam or smartphone cameras, and are shared on social networking sites such Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twittter and video sharing sites such as YouTube. 

    This behaviour is not exclusive to young people within a secondary school setting as the motive behind it may not always be a sexual one. For much younger children it may be sent as a dare or as part of them exploring their bodies and relationships with others. 

What advice can I give to my pupils?

  • Resist peer pressure: the creation of sexting content is quite often due to pressure from a partner or group. Discussing peer pressure with your pupils is a positive way to encourage them to take responsibility for their own actions and resist pressure from others to engage in activities they are uncomfortable with, or know to be against the law. 

  • Know the law: although pupils will be treated as victims in instances of sexting, it is important to educate them about how such behaviour breaks the law, and the potential consequences. 

  • Understand the consequences: increasing your pupils’ awareness about what can happen after sexting content has left their control is very important in helping them to understand the effects that may have on their reputation and psychological wellbeing; both short term and long term.

  • Losing your inhibitions could lead to loss of control: the distribution of sexting content is often deliberate but can also happen in a less planned way, for example through spontaneity or peer pressure, or if a young person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs and their judgement is impaired. Remind your pupils that they have control over the images they create and share, but once they have shared that content, it is out of their control.

  • It’s never too late to tell someone: encourage pupils to speak to someone they trust if they are involved in a sexting incident. Although it may feel like the end of the world to a young person, there is always a way back. The quicker they speak to someone, the better the chance of managing the spread of the content.

  • Report it: If an image of this nature has ended up being shared more openly on websites or social media then it is important to use the reporting tools available. A young person can also make contact with Childline on 0800 11 11 if they are concerned that their image has ended up online and they need support in removing it. 


Useful resources