ZeBUSS Research Lecture 'The Nature of Sexting Amongst Post-Primary Pupils in Northern Ireland'

Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland

Mittwoch, 22.05.2019  I    16:15 - 17:45 | HEL 167

The dominant discourse in the media is that we live in a post-feminist era, in which feminism is no longer needed as women have achieved equality (McRobbie, 2004).  However, in sexting research (Ringrose et al., 2013; 2012), girls and boys still inhabit contradictory positions on what it means to be a girl and a boy.  This study focuses on the nature of sexting amongst young people in Northern Ireland about which there is, as yet, very little qualitative research that explores how young people understand sexting.

To fill this gap, interviews were conducted with four stakeholder organisations who assist schools in the delivery of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) and with pastoral care co-ordinators in three post-primary (secondary) schools to ascertain how their school is currently responding to sexting issues. Focus group interviews were also conducted with seventeen (ten girls and seven boys) 15-17 year olds.

Stakeholder organisations and schools view sexting behaviour in various ways: as child sexual abuse, bullying, selfish gratification, a child protection issue, and a normal part of adolescent development.  By contrast, young people regard sexting as normal behaviour.  Young people in this study report that it is more likely to be boys pressurising girls for a picture, a finding that is common in other sexting research. What the literature does not report but this study does is that girls also instigate sexting and put pressure on boys to send pictures. 

FINDINGS The main findings are that there is, to a certain degree, objectification of girls and, in some cases, of boys. However, while there is still an unequal relationship between girls and boys with respect to why they sext (the enhancement of male status, for example), girls can be assertive in asking for sexual pictures.  Reassuringly, the data reveals that boys are aware of the harms that sexting can cause. 

CONCLUSION The study concludes that young people should contribute to the content of RSE lessons and resources. RSE, further, should move away from telling young people not to sext and help them explore appropriate relationship behaviours, including sexting.  Teachers should have access to appropriate training in order to help them feel confident in teaching such material.


Leanne is a teacher and is interested in contemporary issues affecting young people such as cyberbullying and sexting.  She is currently a 3rd year full-time PhD student at Queen’s University Belfast.  Leanne's PhD research is focusing on the nature of sexting amongst young people in Northern Ireland and explores how young people manage and view sexting.


•       McRobbie, A. (2004) ‘Post-feminism and popular culture’, Feminist Media Studies, 4 (3), pp.255-264, Taylor and Francis (Online) available at http://www.tandfonline.com.queens.ezp1.qub.ac.uk/doi/pdf/10.1080/1468077042000309937 (accessed 17.07.17).

•       Ringrose, J., Harvey, L., Gill, R. and Livingstone, S. (2013) ‘Teens girls, sexual double standards and ‘sexting’: Gendered value in digital image exchange’, Feminist Theory, 14 (3), pp.305-323, Sage Journals (Online)available at http://fty.sagepub.com.queens.ezp1.qub.ac.uk/content/14/3/305.full.pdf+html  (accessed 10.11.16).

•       Ringrose, J., Gill, R., Livingstone, S. and Harvey, L. (2012) A Qualitative Study of Children and Young People and ‘Sexting’, available at http://www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform/resourcesforprofessionals/sexualabuse/sexting-research-report_wdf89269.pdf (accessed 16.10.16).


Abteilung Erziehungswissenschaft in Kooperation mit dem ZeBUSS der Europa-Universität Flensburg