Introduction Sexual messaging (sexting) has become a norm of peer-to-peer communication among young people. There are concerns about the negative impact sexting has on young people’s health and wellbeing. However, little is known about the nature of public health messages currently being provided on sexting. This study sought to understand the nature of information and advice on sexting available online for children, young people and adults.
Methods A document analysis explored online resources from national agencies involved in promoting the welfare of children and young people. Thirty-eight documents were identified which included audio-visual files. The nature of information was analysed thematically.
Results Definitions of sexting, the scope of the problem and the role of technology were key themes across the documents. Safeguarding prioritised the welfare of young people with advice and scenarios on legal issues. Immediate and longer-term consequences considered peer pressure, coercion, bullying and control, psycho-social distress, reputation damage and internet related crime. Advice focused on how to say ‘no’, minimising risk, dealing with the problem, relationship advice, safety and harm reduction including how to use social media.
Discussion Sexting may play an important part in normative sexual development and sexual enquiry. Online digital relationships also create concern for some children and young people. This research found that there was a wealth of information and advice available and the nature of it is consistent across agencies. Harm reduction could be strengthened through a multi-agency commitment to promote inclusive, cross-curricular online safety and healthy peer relationship messages.
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