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topic Overview

Sexting and nonconsensual sharing

Today, technology plays a central role in how we make and cultivate friendships. It enables us to engage with new people worldwide through digital communities and, for many kids, to maintain constant contact with friends through their smartphones. Essentially, technology serves both as a means and a venue for establishing connections.

Growing up online

Similarly, technology now plays a role for many young people as they date, flirt, and explore their sexuality. “Sexting,” or the digital sharing of flirty or sexually explicit messages—at times including nude images—has increasingly become part of dating and relationships in the digital age.

We all do it. It is ok.

— boy, 15-17

As technology intersects with adolescence, it’s reshaping how kids learn about relationships and sexuality. Today, young people are exploring these aspects of life with a smartphone in hand, often extending and nurturing their relationships in the digital world.

For some, sexting and the sharing of nude images have become a new form of intimacy – like the new “second base.” 

In 2022, a third of minors reported engaging in some form of online sexual interaction.


This includes


1 in 5

who were asked to send a nude image


1 in 4

who received sexual messages

Additionally, about 25% of children aged 9-17 reported that it was common for peers their age to share nude images. When looking at teenagers specifically, we see an increase in perceived normalcy, with 32% reporting that is was common for their peers to engage in nude sharing behaviors.

While roughly 1 in 7 minors admit to having shared their own SG-CSAM, the exact rates of nude sharing behaviors vary based on factors like age and gender. Nude sharing behaviors are occurring at younger ages than many might expect, with reports of children as young as 9 sharing nude images.

Percentage of minors who have shared their own SG-CSAM

  All Girls Boys
Ages 9-12 6% 6% 7%
Ages 13-17 20% 16% 22%

Data sourced from Thorn


Notably, young people are not the only ones engaging in this behavior. When asked directly if they had ever shared a nude photo or video of themselves, one-third of caregivers reported that they had.

Varied levels of risk


Sexting more often happens in offline relationships. Among minors who have shared nudes, more than three-quarters say they have done so with someone they know offline. Of these, more than two-thirds say that person was their boyfriend or girlfriend.


Among minors who have shared nudes, more than three-quarters say they have done so with someone they know offline.
Of these, more than two-thirds say that person was their boyfriend or girlfriend.
Of these, more than two-thirds say that person was their boyfriend or girlfriend.


However, online sexual interactions are not limited to experiences with other minors, nor do they always know the person they share nudes with from their offline communities. In fact, minors report having sexual interactions at roughly the same rate with adults as they are with other minors.

The likelihood of having a sexual interaction with an adult is higher among teens, but not exclusive.


1 in 5

9-12-year-olds shared they had had some type of sexual interaction online with someone they believed to be over the age of 18.

1 in 3

In addition, roughly one-third of minors who have shared their own nudes report having done so with someone whom they believed to be an adult.


Worryingly, LGBTQ+ youth face unique, elevated risks relating to online sexual exploration. For many, the communities they find online offer acceptance, support, and representation unavailable to them in their homes or neighborhoods.

In Thorn’s 2022 survey of 13-20-year-olds, LGBTQ+ participants were roughly 10 percentage points more likely than non-LGBTQ+ participants to report having shared nudes with someone they only know online.

Non-consensual sharing of nudes

While some minors may consensually share nude images, such images still constitute child sexual abuse material (CSAM). The dissemination of these images poses significant risks to the depicted minors and can be used as a tool for grooming other minors.

Content shared this way is known as non-consensual intimate imagery (NCII), and this practice takes away the agency and consent of the person in the image and creates new layers of risk for the child depicted in the image. Some of the harm that the sharing of NCII can contribute to include:

  • Increased availability of child sex abuse material (CSAM) for offenders and abusers
  • Images can be used as examples to groom other children to share nudes and other sexually explicit imagery
  • Promotes shaming and bullying among peer groups in some cases, resulting in depression, anxiety, and other negative mental health outcomes

Unfortunately, the non-consensual resharing of intimate images is not uncommon. Nearly 1 in 5 children ages 9-17 say they have been shown someone else’s nudes without their consent. This number also includes roughly 1 in 6 9-12-year-olds.

Percentage of minors who have non-consensually reshared SG-CSAM


Data sourced from Thorn

Who gets blamed for leaked nudes?

A significant issue with NCII and self-generated child sexual abuse material (SG-CSAM) is the misplacement of blame. The person whose nudes have been leaked is often blamed rather than those who reshare the images.


I’ll feel a little bad for the girl [whose nudes got leaked], but then again she kinda asked for it when she decided to send them to anyone in the first place, soooooo.

— Female, 16

I would take away all their tech and put them on punishment.

— Caregiver


Roughly 40% of kids place all or most of the blame on the victim for taking the picture in the first place, instead of on the person who leaked their images. Similarly, slightly more than half of caregivers share this view.

This situation presents a barrier to education, prevention measures, and mitigation of the problem, and risks compounding harmful outcomes for victims of NCII.

What’s next?

Understanding adolescence in the digital era involves addressing the realities young people face. Dating and flirting aren’t confined to in-person interactions anymore. Many relationships, including those with sexual elements, begin and evolve online. While it’s natural for young people to be curious about forming relationships and exploring their sexuality, sharing personal images and other sexual content carries risks.

It’s crucial for young people to learn how to identify potential dangers. Caregivers need to be ready to have conversations about sexting, sharing sexually explicit imagery, and the risks of non-consensual resharing.


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