Four in 10 teenage girls in England ‘sexting’ with their partners.

Joint research from the Universities of Bristol, Central Lancashire, and the NSPCC reveals that 44% of teenage girls in England, and 32% of boys, have sent sexual images or text messages to their partners.

Of the five countries surveyed: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Italy, Norway and UK, England has the highest ‘sexting rate’, with more than four in 10 teenage girls also reporting experiences of sexual coercion. The figures show a majority were pressured to have sex or perform some other form of sexual activity, with some reported threats of physical violence, intimidation, or emotional abuse from their partners.

A high proportion amongst teenage boys are also found to be regularly viewing pornography, this may well be a contributing factors towards their attitude and treatment of their female partners, or women in general. One in five teenage boys harbour ‘extremely negative’ attitudes towards women.

There is a lack of national or transnational projects that have addressed the incidence, role and impact of new technologies in initiating and maintaining control and violence in young people’s intimate relationships.  STIRitUP aims to contribute towards this gap in European understanding and prevention. With technology use on the rise, especially amongst the young generations, it is important to address this issue with maximum scrutiny. The project uses a four stage multiple method approach:

  1. Expert consultation
  2. School based survey
  3. Young people’s participation
  4. Web-based resource – a downloadable app

Report on the most recent research from the project, Paper 5, highlights various issues and how the youth from these countries responded during interviews. The paper portrays a very clear, yet bleak picture of the type of abuse our new generation goes through due to the introduction of technology in our daily lives.

Experiences of control and surveillance online and offline


For the purpose of understanding, online control covers: being told to avoid certain people; being pressured into providing their partners with passwords for personal online accounts; or having their whereabouts known at all times. Offline control covers: limiting contact with friends; telling their partners what to wear; turning up uninvited and getting upset, annoyed and angry if their partner wanted to take part in activities without them.

From the interviews, it appears that this new notion of online and offline surveillance and control is a habit normalised among the youth, the feel it is something that comes as a prerequisite with a relationship. Some even considered this action as a measure of how much their partner ‘cared’ for them. This may be one of the prime signs of a controlling relationship.

Initially I thought it [him calling to ask where I was and wanting details of who I met and what I was doing] was ok… I even kind of liked it, you know… I thought it was a sign he really cared for me. (Claudia, 15, Italy)

Sending sexual images





The paper highlights some findings of their research under this heading: sending sexual images was sometimes mutual and freely chosen but normalisation of this in some peer cultures. Young people in England accepted being asked for a sexual image by partners as normal.

‘The Internet is full of girls as young as 12-13 with naked photos or clips. For example, they dance and strip. One was only 8 and had such a clip…. Young girls just don’t understand. For them, this is something normal’. (Lois, 17, Bulgaria)

Such a statement only goes on to exhibit the extent of normalisation of sending explicit images, for young girls.

The paper further goes on to discussing trust in matters of sharing personal images: most young people refused to send images because they did not trust their partners and were afraid of the possibility of the photos being shared with others after the break once the relationship ended:

I have never shared pictures with guys I have been going out with, one tried, but I thought it was unnecessary, he called when he was drunk and asked why I wouldn’t…I didn’t trust him, he could have used that picture, it has consequences, if I would break up he could have used that picture against me. (Julia, 16, Norway)

Even when images and intimate texts had not been shared, knowing that their partner or ex-partner had them in their possession caused anxiety for some young people, especially young women:

He walks along with her ‘whole life’, in his mobile phone, ready to share it with anyone at any time. (Erika, 17, Norway)

Physical and emotional abuse





I beat them with words. This is most hurtful. (Stefan, 18, Bulgaria)

For an 18-year-old, that is a pretty strong statement, and just goes on to showing how there may not be an age limit on abuse, whether on the receiving end or the giving end.

The paper highlights: in many instances, verbal insults came from both partners and were generally not viewed as abusive behaviour. But emotional abuse could also be one-sided and normalised as ‘just the way he was. He would tell me how good I was for putting up with him’.

Emotional abuse, on the other hand, received appreciation of its significance from both parties.

I’d rather, to be honest I’d rather be beaten then have emotional pain because I don’t deal with things like that very well. (Bethany, 15, England)

The paper reports that physical violence had been experienced by at least one person interviewed in each country, therefore it would seem like physical violence is a problem in each of these countries. Again, it is one of the problems that seem to be normalised in society, especially with factors such as alcohol acting as catalysts.

It was stupid to beat her, though it does not count when you are drunk…She didn’t feel bad because she [had refused to dance with me] out of stubbornness. (Peter, 18, Bulgaria)

…you know, he was a bit drunk because we were coming back from a party and – true – maybe I shouldn’t have looked at messages without telling him. (Marta, 16, Italy)

The role of new technologies in offline abuse





He had asked me never to speak to a particular boy who had made a comment on one of the pictures I posted on Facebook. Once when he saw me talk to this boy he was so angry he almost slapped me (Tatiana, 16, Cyprus).

The paper highlights that, technology played a significant role in online insults: ‘he would write different things on his wall that put me down’ and virtual rows where ‘you’ll soon be like, ‘Oh I shouldn’t have sent that!’ And then you’re having to apologise and then it gets even worse’.

Gendered Impact of Interpersonal Violence (IPV)




If a naked picture of mine goes around the web, no problem… for a girl it is different… her reputation would be in trouble… (Carlo, 17, Italy)

The paper reports: the impact of sharing of sexual images and sexual pressure was much more problematic for young women as they were vulnerable to damage to their reputation whereas young men were not.

From the beginning of times and throughout society, regardless of ethnicity or cultures, female chastity and virginity has been deemed more important than its male counterpart. As much as we like to believe we have evolved and changed for the better, terms like ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ prove quite the contrary. Therefore, it is understandable why females would feel more vulnerable and concerned about sending intimate images, for fear of having leaked images or other shared outlets. Furthermore, the paper also connects physical abuse and the fear of violence with failure to send images on request: ‘he scares me, actually I feel really overpowered and terrified.’

So, whilst technology has facilitated new avenues for relationships or chance meetings, it can fast take on an ugly turn and be detrimental to these very relationships it may have started in the first place. It is important to ensure that adequate knowledge and awareness regarding what should be acceptable in a relationship is made available to the youth. The youth is highlighted here, as this seems to be a more vulnerable age group with peer pressure and societal normalisation playing a huge hand in exacerbating such personal issues. This study has made a remarkable attempt at filling the gap in literature as well as society, regarding this issue.

More papers and overall information of the research can be found on:








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