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Why is sexting so popular among teenagers?

"Sexting" is a made-up word and is made up of the two terms "sex" and "texting", so it means sending erotic images or videos via SMS or messenger services. Now that smartphone penetration is almost 100% among young people (see JIM study 2020), the dissemination of content is no longer a technical obstacle. The Snapchat app is often used for this, as the content is automatically deleted after viewing it once.

Sexting is about sending erotic pictures - i.e. topless or topless pictures, pictures in bikini or bathing trunks and nude pictures in provocative poses - to the boyfriend, for example as a token of love, as a sign that you are your partner / Trust the partner completely or to give the relationship more oomph.

Others use sexting as part of flirting, getting to know each other, and also as a means of sexual stimulation. It is used by many young people for self-presentation in their circle of friends. Sexting satisfies the desire for exchange and comparison among peers, is an expression of a self-determined sexuality and is used to experiment with it.

How common is sexting among teenagers?

According to an Austrian study from 2015, half of adolescents between the ages of 14 and 18 know someone who has already sent nude photos of themselves. A third of them have already received photos or videos themselves in which the person pictured was seen almost or completely naked. 16% of young people have already taken nude photos of themselves and mostly sent them.
A third of the young people surveyed consider it "normal" to send nude photos to their partner, one in ten also consider it "normal" to know the nude photos of their best friend. Boys are more open-minded than girls here. However, over 80% of the young people surveyed rate the dangers of sexting as high.

Find the results of the entire study on sexting here.

What is the legal situation?

Right to your own picture

First of all, it must be said that in general the dissemination of photos on which a person is recognizable may only be done with their consent. Sending pictures of a person without their consent is prohibited. This is where personal rights come into force.

For example, if you as a parent go to a city festival with your child and are photographed by a photographer who intends to include the photo in a newspaper or online, he or she must obtain your and your child's permission. The violation of this personal right can otherwise be prosecuted on request, even if the photographer is a young person.
In addition, it is absolutely forbidden to take photos of people in their home or in a specially protected room (e.g. toilet, shower, changing room) without their consent.

General information on nude photos of children and adolescents

Minors enjoy special protection under the law, especially when it comes to the portrayal of their body.

According to § 184b StGB, pornographic writings such as B. Pictures or videos depicting sexual acts by, on or in front of a child (under 14 years of age), showing fully or partially unclothed children in an unnatural gender-emphasizing posture or unclothed genitals or the bare buttocks of a child in a sexually provocative way. In the case of children, of course, parents should always take pictures of their naked children, e.g. B. be allowed to do a family album while swimming or on the beach. This is only punishable if the genitals or the buttocks are reproduced in a sexually provocative manner or if this is done commercially, e.g. B. if you want to earn money with these pictures.

According to Section 184c of the Criminal Code, pornographic writings are considered youth pornography that depict sexual acts by, on or in front of a young person (person who is at least 14 but not yet 18 years old) or that reproduce completely or partially undressed young people in unnatural, gender-emphasized postures. "Posing" photos are also to be assessed as youth pornography here.

When is sexting allowed?

If the pictures or videos of young people are made exclusively for private purposes and with the consent of the person shown, this is permitted. A 15-year-old can send her own erotic pictures to her 16-year-old boyfriend, an 18-year-old can take pictures of her 17-year-old friend who is naked.
However, forwarding to friends, acquaintances or uploading to a public platform is prohibited.

What are the dangers of sexting?

If sexting is done with mutual consent and the sender and recipient are over 14 years old, it is legally permitted. However, photos should never be taken or sent because of pressure or expectations ("You don't really love me, otherwise I should take a picture of you!").

A problem can arise from the fact that if the relationship breaks down, the collected images are sent on without permission in order to harm the person, to expose them to friends or to blackmail them with the images. What originally started as seductive news can quickly turn into cyberbullying. The photos are then sent on in a chain letter like an avalanche and the original sender no longer has any control over who sees the intimate pictures. A person's reputation can then be destroyed very quickly, which can lead to marginalization. For the exposed person, this can have extreme aftereffects.

If images are uploaded to social media without permission, it is advisable to contact the provider immediately to report the images and have them removed. Here legal steps can be considered, since the right to one's own image and the very personal area of ​​life has been violated.

It is also dangerous if sexting does not happen with mutual consent. It is possible that young people are sent erotic pictures or suggestive messages without being asked. Here the sender should be blocked immediately and legal steps should be considered.

Tips to avoid the risk of sexting

Basically, there is no such thing as "safer sexting", as it can never be ruled out that the images will not be disseminated. It is therefore important to educate young people about the risks. The media education platform has put together tips on how to minimize sexting risks, as described on the website of

  • Less is more: A photo can appear erotic even if not all intimate parts of the body are shown in full. For example, the arms or items of clothing can be placed in front of the body so that not everything can be seen. The rest is up to the imagination.
  • Do not show your face: Erotic images can be made in such a way that the person depicted cannot be clearly identified. For example, it can help to show the face from the side or to omit it entirely or to edit the recordings with a filter.
  • Show instead of send: You retain control over your own nude photos when they are not given out of your hand. They can still be shown on your own smartphone or laptop.
  • Delete old recordings: Nude photos should be deleted regularly - possibly together with your partner. This protects against prying eyes if, for example, the smartphone is lying around unobserved, is stolen or is lost.

Here are exciting links to read on!

Further information

Parents letters

You can find this topic in the letters from parents ...