Sexting in Africa among young adults, with South Africa being the focus of the research works on which this article is based, is on the rise. In sexting, people are basically sharing messages of a sexual nature, which most times are accompanied with pictures of more private parts of their bodies to accepted partners.
The initial research work we refer to, which was conducted by Melissa Isabella Meyer a PhD Candidate at the Centre of Criminology, University of Cape Town collected data from 579 students aged between 18 and 30 in an online survey at the University and made the following determinations;
- Millennials consider sexting fun and flirty.
- They use it to get positive feedback and boost their self-esteem.
- 55% of the respondents said they had friends who sext with nude or semi-nude pictures; 53% have done so themselves and 59% have received such content.
- It is not necessarily a private activity – 57% of male and 44% of female student respondents have seen someone else’s private naked or semi-naked picture(s). So much so, that 72% expressed the fear of someone else seeing their picture as a serious concern or hindrance to sexting.
- Importantly, millennials were highly aware of the risks posed by sexting. They also understood how it could be potentially harmful, but most said that the benefits outweighed the risks.
- Participants said that the most common risk associated with sexting, apart from leaked photos, is receiving an unsolicited and unexpected sext, especially one of a graphic, sexual nature. This is an especially common complaint among young women, and leaves the receiver feeling violated, but also with the expectation to respond.
- Some were also concerned about the turn-taking repertoire of sexting, which means that when one receives a sext it creates the expectation of returning a similar contribution. If you receive a photo of your partner’s naked torso, for instance, a text or photo of your face is not considered an appropriate response. For inexperienced sexters, this could create negative pressure.
More recently, Professor Deon Tustin of the University of South Africa’s Bureau of Market Research, presented his findings on a report of compulsive cell phone‚ internet and texting behavior in 11 Gauteng high schools at a Youth Research Conference in Pretoria. the research which was conducted in 2014 found that some students snapped or filmed sexual content at school and then sold it to their friends at other schools.
12% of the survey’s participants said they have sent sexually suggestive nude images of themselves to others via text. 72% said they regretted some of the texts that they sent and 38% said they formed new relationships with unknown internet users while on the web.
Faced with these facts, it is obvious that sexting is becoming more common, but does this mean that it has become more acceptable in Africa? Should we as the initial researcher suggests embrace the phenomenon and instead of fighting it, find new ways to teach younger people how to engage in it safely? The answer is really up to individual families, who should determine what becomes normal for their wards.