What is Sexting?

Sexting is the activity of sending text messages that are about sex or intended to sexually excite someone.

They can be sent using mobiles, tablets, smartphones, laptops – any device that allows you to share media and messages.

Sexting may also be called:

trading nudes


pic for pic

Is it against the Law?

Sexting can be seen as harmless, but creating or sharing explicit images of a child is illegal, even if the person doing it is a child. A young person is breaking the law if they:

  • take an explicit photo or video of themselves or a friend
  • share an explicit image or video of a child, even if it’s shared between children of the same age
  • possess, download or store an explicit image or video of a child, even if the child gave their permission for it to be created.

However, as of January 2016 in England and Wales, if a young person is found creating or sharing images, the police can choose to record that a crime has been committed but that taking formal action isn’t in the public interest.

Crimes recorded this way are unlikely to appear on future records or checks, unless the young person has been involved in other similar activities which may indicate that they’re a risk. Find out more about legislation on child abuse images.

Why do young people sext?

There are many reasons why a young person may want to send a naked or semi-naked picture, video or message to someone else.

  • joining in because they think that ‘everyone is doing it’
  • boosting their self-esteem
  • flirting with others and testing their sexual identity
  • exploring their sexual feelings
  • to get attention and connect with new people on social media
  • they may find it difficult to say no if somebody asks them for an explicit image, especially if the person asking is persistent

What are the risks of sexting?

  • You have no control of images or how they are shared

It’s easy to send a photo or message but the sender has no control about how it’s passed on.

When images are stored or shared online they become public. Some people may think that images and videos only last a few seconds on social media and then they’re deleted, but they can still be saved or copied by others. This means that photos or videos which a young person may have shared privately could still be end up being shared between adults they don’t know.

  • Blackmail
    An offender may threaten to share the pictures with the child’s family and friends unless the child sends money or more images.
  • Bullying
    If images are shared with their peers or in school, the child may be bullied.
  • Unwanted attention
    Images posted online can attract the attention of sex offenders, who know how to search for, collect and modify images.
  • Emotional distress
    Children can feel embarrassed and humiliated. If they’re very distressed this could lead to suicide or self-harm.

What you need to know about sexting:

  • once you send a message you can’t control what happens to it
  • don’t let someone guilt or pressure you into sending a sex text
  • if you’ve sent a nude pic, have an honest conversation with the person you sent it to. Ask them to delete it
  • if an indecent or nude pic of you is posted online, you can contact the website directly or make a report online to try and get it removed.

You’ve already shared photos – what now?


When sexting goes badly, it can make you feel ashamed, guilty, embarrassed or anxious. But there are things you can do to make the situation better and prevent it from happening again.

Try having an honest conversation with the person you sent the image to. Ask them to delete it. The quicker you’re able to do this the better. You can’t control what someone will do with an image, but having an honest conversation can help to make sure they won’t pass it on.

Listen to Your Selfie – Lara’s Story

“Heya! I’m Lara. So, about me: I love seeing friends, listening to music and playing netball. Oh yeah and I LOVE Snapchat – it’s the best!I live near Dan so I saw him around quite a bit – just at the bus stop and places. He’s an older guy and he smokes and stuff.

I don’t think my parents would approve, but he’s got a sweet side too.”

Listen to Your Selfie – Paul’s Story

“Hi – I’m Paul. I’m pretty normal. I like playing computer games and listening to music.

Like I said, the usual.

Well. There is one thing. I’m gay. Or Bi-sexual maybe. Sometimes I really fancy girls, and sometimes I kind of like guys. So I’m not 100% sure. It’s a lot to think about.

I know, I know – being gay is fine. Who cares, right? But come on, people at school would rip me. I can’t be dealing with that yet.

So anyway… JJ.”

Getting help

The sooner you talk to somebody about the situation the better. This could be your mum, dad, carer or a school teacher. Your school will have ways of dealing with these sorts of problems and can confiscate mobiles if they believe they have sexual images on them.

Reporting an image or video

If you’re under 18 and an indecent or nude pic of you is posted online, that’s illegal. But we can help. You can contact the website directly yourself or make a report about what’s happened to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), who will speak to the website to try and remove it.

Not sure whether or not to say something? Making a report can be scary, but the counselors at Childline can  support you. They can talk about what might happen and talking to them is confidential.

Report sexting or bullying on social media

Social networks don’t allow naked images of people under 18. This includes photos of children who have turned 18 since the pictures were taken. If you see a naked image of someone under 18, or someone has shared a naked picture of you, this is illegal and there are things that you can do.

If you’re over 18 and someone’s shared a naked or sexual picture of you without your consent they’re breaking the law. It’s not always possible to get these images taken down but there’s a special Revenge Pornography Helpline for people who are over 18 that can help.

For more information of how to report to the below get more information here:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Whatsapp
  • Tumblr
  • Video chat sites

With text messages and calls it can be a bit harder to block someone. This means you should always be careful about giving people your phone number. You can block a particular number from contacting you on some mobiles.

WhatsApp and most messenger apps let you un-invite or block users. Check your phone user guide to see if yours can. If it gets too much, getting your phone number changed or buying a new SIM card is another option. A parent or carer could help you with this.

If an adult has been making you feel uncomfortable by asking you to send them images, you can report them on the CEOP website. If an adult does this it is sometimes called online grooming. It is wrong for anyone to be pressuring you in this way. If you are under 18, they are breaking the law.

What to do if you’re sent sexual images

If you’ve been sent a sexual image or video, don’t pass it on or share it with anyone. Think about how that person might feel if somebody else saw it. Think about how you’d feel if it was a picture of you. If you’re asking your boyfriend or girlfriend for a naked photo, think about how much trust they’ll need to give you and how much pressure you’ll be putting on them.


People aren’t always honest about who they are online. If you’ve received a sexual message (including things like an email, text message, picture message, sexual photo or voicemail) or one that makes you uncomfortable, try talking to an adult you trust.

Telling them about the message you were sent can help the situation. This is really important if you’re under 18 or the other person is much older than you.

You can also report them using the CEOP reporting website and block them from contacting you again. This’ll stop them from sending you more inappropriate pictures.

Help and Support:

Childline for more help and advice go here

NSPCC for more help and advice go here

CEOP for more help and advice go here

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