Researchers at the University of Essex have found that teenagers often engage in sexting to avenge a perceived betrayal, as well as to initiate sex.

Sixteen-year-old boys and girls, who took part in the ongoing study, admitted that the sharing of explicit photos of someone else is often their way of issuing pay-back for having been cheated on or 'disresepcted'.  

They also admitted that sharing sexualised images online or via smartphones enabled them to connect, flirt and share erotic desires online with someone they felt attracted to, without feeling the insecurity that comes with meeting in person.

The findings will be the focus of an event as part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Festival of Social Science.

Camilla Giambonini from the Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies at Essex, said:  "There's a moral panic around sexting and there is concern that it leads to bullying. But it’s impossible to stop young people from sharing their intimate images. Therefore we need to reduce any harmful impact with interventions aimed at educating young people about the risks of online sharing. It’s also important to consider their needs, and what it means to build trust and confidence."

"Young people need to learn about how to handle negative emotions when relationships go wrong, and this ought to start at an early age. These negative emotions are often the cause of exposure of 'sexted' images. Our laws and policy should also take this aspect into account."

Quotes from young people captured as part of this study include:

 "When you like a girl, you feel embarrassed at talking to her face to face. Online you can present yourself as you wish, you can accept yourself better… so communication is easier." Nick, 16

 "I got very, very angry… very angry… mostly with myself, because I believed him when he’d told me it wasn’t him who shared the picture… I shouldn’t have believed him… I blamed myself…" Josephine, 16

"If they break up or she does something she shouldn’t have, like she cheats on him, he sends the picture around. In the end, most the times this is how it goes… because he is a child. It’s a very stupid thing. It is useless to humiliate girls so much."  Joe, 16

Researchers will be sharing their findings as part of an event entitled Digital Intimacy on 9 November for the general public.