With the rise of communicating via cell phone came the rise of sexting. This often occurs with adolescents and can be a form of sexual harassment when unsolicited. A study published in Sex Roles explores how teenage girls experience receiving unwanted dick pics.
Sending nudes to a minor or taking nudes as a minor are illegal acts in the United Kingdom. Despite this, almost half of women report having received an unsolicited dick pic before the age of 18. Previous research shows that the primary motive for sending a dick pic is to receive a naked picture of the recipient in return, with other reasons including to show off or as a power move. Sending unsolicited nudes is a form of sexual harassment, but women are often held responsible for not managing their online risk better when they receive them.
Researcher Jessica Ringrose and her colleagues created focus groups of young people between the ages of 11 and 18 from 7 different secondary schools in the United Kingdom. Workshops were created to understand how sexual images are taken, shared, and received by young people. The first part of the focus group centered on discussing norms about taking and sharing photos. Next, participants were asked to draw some of the experiences they’ve had. They were also asked to present ideas for better digital sex education.
Results showed that 76% of adolescent girls surveyed had received a dick pic before and 70% of them had been asked to send naked pictures of themselves before. The adolescent girls shared that most of the dick pics they received were not asked for or wanted but they did not feel they could report it. Many participants shared that it felt easier to simply block or ignore the sender, particularly when the sender was a stranger, and that this was such a common occurrence that it was no longer shocking.
Girls reported being stigmatized for receiving dick pics from peers and shared that it held the connotation that they must have sent something in return. This situation was described as difficult to navigate, and girls did not feel they could easily block or delete their peers, as they could with strangers.
This study made strides in understanding sexual harassment from unsolicited nudes for adolescent girls. Despite this, it has some limitations. Firstly, focus groups can encourage participants to match their response to others to fit in within the group, which can make data less accurate. Additionally, all participants were from the United Kingdom and these experiences could differ based on country.
“In this article, we have sought to highlight the normalization of unsolicited dick pics sent to girls aged 11–18. Our research confirms and extends earlier research that suggested dick pics have become a ubiquitous part of youth digital sexual cultures,” the researchers concluded.
“We found our participants for the most part lacked a framework to understand these experiences as harassment, and they did not typically report these practices. Instead, they ignored or blocked the senders, but doing so was more difficult when the sender was a known boy from the peer group at school.”
“We advocated for a shift in terminology to understand youth digital sexual image sharing, replacing victim-blaming narratives and abstinence messages derived from the criminalization of all youth sexual images, to a focus on how and when image sharing and receiving are non-consensual, harassing and abusive,” the researchers said.
The study, “Teen Girls’ Experiences Negotiating the Ubiquitous Dick Pic: Sexual Double Standards and the Normalization of Image Based Sexual Harassment“, was authored by Jessica Ringrose, Kaitlyn Regehr, and Sophie Whitehead.