Children as young as 12 are sending nude images through their mobile phones and via social media because they see it as ‘normal and fun’ part of relationships – despite knowing the risks – a study reveals.

When asked why they share nude pictures, many said it was a natural way of exploring their sexuality and something they did with a trusted partner. 

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However some admitted they were coerced and threatened, often by strangers they met online. The study, Self Produced Images – Risk Taking Online (Spirto), revealed the difficulty police, parents and schools face in trying to differentiate between normal behaviour and abuse.

The study found that sending nude photos did not always mean the teen had started having sex, but it was a way to explore their sexuality. 

Dr Ethel Quayle of the University of Edinburgh, who worked on the study, said: ‘The consequences of sending the images were not always absolutely catastrophic, but they were for some people.

‘The problem is how do we differentiate between sexting, which we may not like or approve of but is taking place in the context of a consensual romantic relationship, from something which we really need to take seriously?’

Researchers questioned people aged 15 to 25, who had all shared naked photos when they were under 18.

They found that 73 per cent sent images because they were asked to, either by their partner or a stranger. Some admitted they had been asked to send images as proof of their love and found it hard to say no.

Nearly 60 per cent said they sent nude pictures because it was fun, exciting and a good way to meet people and flirt.

And 47 per cent said they sent them to get attention and compliments about their looks, with girls saying it helped build self-confidence.

One in eight said they had been coerced into sending naked selfies, often by threats to show their family images they had already sent.

Most nude images were not shared beyond the intended recipient. But 16 per cent said their parents and the school had found out, and 22 per cent said the selfies were shown to their peers, sometimes leading to harassment, threats or bullying.

Eight per cent said their need to send naked images was affecting their school work or social life.


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