Teens engage in sexting, the act of sending sexually explicit messages and/or photographs, primarily between mobile phones, to enhance their popularity in the peer group, according to a new study.
Although very few studies have asked 'why' adolescents choose to participate in sexting or the use of mobile porn, those that have asked 'why' continually point to the influence of peer group dynamics, researchers said.
"We felt that a possible explanation for the fact that teenagers engage in sexting practices despite the obvious risks, could lie in the role of powerful peer group dynamics such as peer pressure and popularity," said researcher Dr Mariek Vanden Abeele from Leuven School for Mass Communication Research, University of Leuven, Belgium.
"We also noticed that teenagers' mobile porn use received little attention from both scholars and public opinion leaders, while current research suggests that this behaviour is fairly prevalent among teens," Abeele said.
Drawing from the results of a large scale quantitative survey study, the new study examined how four key aspects of peer group dynamics, namely same-sex popularity, other-sex popularity, perceived peer pressure and need for popularity, are associated with sexting and mobile porn use among teenagers ages 11-20.
"A first interesting result in the study, is that for boys sexting was associated with higher (self-perceived) popularity among both boys and girls, while girls who reported having sent a sext indicated perceiving themselves as more popular among boys, but less popular among girls," said Abeele.
"A second interesting result from our study is that mobile porn use was reported almost exclusively by male respondents, particularly by boys who experienced greater peer pressure.
"This finding aligns with what we know from earlier work on the consumption of magazine and video pornography in male peer groups, and suggests that downloading and exchanging mobile porn may be at least as much about proving one's 'manliness' to others as it is about achieving sexual arousal," Abeele said.
Abeele said the results of this study suggest that, in the eyes of teenagers, sexting and mobile porn use do bring short-term benefits in terms of enhancing popularity in the peer group that may in fact outweigh potential long-term risks associated with these behaviours.
The study was published in Routledge's Media Psychology.