What is “sexting?”
Sexting is a term used to describe the act of sending and receiving sexually explicit text messages, photographs or videos, mainly through a mobile device. These images can be sent through a regular text message or through a mobile texting app. As texting apps on mobile devices have become more popular and create ways that users can “hide” or anonymize their texting activity, sexting has also increased in popularity.
There is always a risk that a “sext” could be shared or distributed with additional people electronically without your consent. Once a photograph or video is sent, the image is out of your control and could be shared by the other person. However, the act of voluntarily sharing sexually explicit photographs or videos with someone does not give the receiver your permission to post or share those images. Sharing personal information and images of someone else without his/her knowledge or consent is not okay and in many states can be illegal. You can learn more about this on our Abuse Involving Nude/ Sexual Images (photos/videos) page.
It’s important to think about whether you are truly comfortable with sharing sexual or explicit images with the recipient and whether you fully trust that s/he will not re-send them to others. If someone is trying to force or pressure you into sending a sexual image, find someone (a local service provider, attorney, or law enforcement officer) to discuss your options. You should never be pressured or forced into sending personal images and threatening or forcing you to do so may be illegal. The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative has a confidential hotline where you can get more information.
Is sexting against the law?
Although sexting between consenting adults may not violate any laws, many state laws that deal with sexting make it clear that sending sexually explicit images to a minor or keeping sexually explicit images of a minor is illegal.
If a minor sends, keeps, or shares sexually explicit photographs of a minor (including himself or herself), there could be criminal consequences for that behavior. Sending, keeping, or sharing sexually explicit images or videos of a minor could result in criminal prosecution under state or federal child pornography laws or sexting laws (if the state has a sexting law that addresses that behavior). Such behavior may also be illegal under state child sexual assault or child abuse laws. Notably, even if the minor sends a sexual image of himself/herself (as opposed to sending pictures of another minor), this behavior can still be illegal and the minor could face legal consequences. You can find a list of states that have criminal sexting laws on cyberbullying.org.
What are some ways an abuser could use sexting?
The act of sexting can be consensual and is not itself a sign of abuse. However, an abuser could use photographs, videos, or messages shared through sexting to maintain power and control over you. For example, the abuser may later threaten to share these images or may actually share them with others. Our Abuse Involving Nude/Sexual Images page has more information about the laws related to the nonconsensual sharing of intimate images.
Additionally, an abuser may blackmail you once s/he gains access to images and messages shared through sexting. An abuser may also pressure or threaten you to continue to send photographs, videos, or messages even if you do not wish to do so.
An abuser could also harass you by sexting you even if you have asked for the communication to stop. For example, an abuser might continue to send you sexual images or videos of himself/herself even if you no longer want to receive that content. If an abuser is harassing you, you may have criminal and civil legal options, such as reporting any criminal behavior to police or filing for a restraining order if eligible.