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  • Michaela Lebedíková

Understanding feelings after sexting and sexual exposure

During the past four years, I have focused on examining the different ways in which exposure to sexually explicit materials (i.e., pictures, photos, or videos depicting nudity or sex) and sexting (i.e., sending such materials) relate to adolescents’ well-being. An area that especially caught my attention were the subsequent feelings after exposure and sexting – how do adolescents feel about it? It’s an exciting topic not previously studied quantitatively (i.e., on a large scale) but also an important issue for future research – as these immediate emotional reactions may alter the long-term impacts on adolescents’ well-being. Both studies utilise cross-sectional surveys to find out about the associations of individual characteristics with feeling happy and upset after sexual exposure and sexting.

Sexual exposure and subsequent feelings: a fascinating pattern. Utilizing a large sample from nine European countries, we found that adolescents generally report feeling neutral. When zooming in by gender, we found that boys are more likely to feel happy, while girls are upset. Interestingly, we found that the variables that are associated with exposure to sexually explicit materials were also related to subsequent feelings.

Sexting and its variety: one step closer towards an understanding. In this study of Czech adolescents, we focused on the expected and unexpected receiving of sexts and their sending. Regardless of whether adolescents expected to receive a sext, they were more likely to report feeling upset. That is interesting, as we presumed that unexpected receiving of sexts might be more triggering, while expected sexting could be positive. After sending sexts, they were more likely to report feeling happy. In contrast with sexual exposure, we found that while similar variables were associated with the three sexting types, they were not associated with the subsequent feelings. Such results suggest there might be other factors at play – such as motivations to sext, the identity of the sender, or other contextual factors of sexting.

The gaps ahead. Although the two studies are among the first quantitative ones on this topic and shed light on some interesting associations (and their lack thereof), there are still unresolved issues that I hope will inspire future research. First and foremost, the feelings adolescents experience after both phenomena are far more complex than being happy or upset – qualitative research suggests they experience feeling anxious, excited, aroused, happy, ashamed, or disgusted. Moreover, existing research suggests that people may simultaneously experience – even contradicting – feelings. These feelings might also be contingent on many contextual factors – such as whether they saw sexually explicit images willingly or, in the case of sexting, who was the sender of the sexts. Therefore, future research must consider capturing such a range and eventualities in large-scale studies while allowing for meaningful statistical analysis

Michaela Lebedíková is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Social Studies at Masaryk University in Czechia. She spent the past three months at ASCoR, working on finishing her dissertation and collaborating on a research paper with Ine Beyens.


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