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Health and Wellbeing
A Health and Well-being Wales Partner

So-called ‘sexting’ is a growing problem among young people, who may not fully understand the implications of their actions.

Sexting is when someone shares sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos of themselves or others, or sends sexually explicit messages to someone else. A young person may not think there’s any harm in sexting, especially if they are in a steady relationship with the other person and it seems everyone else is doing it, but there can be serious consequences for both:

  •  it is illegal to be in the possession of an indecent image of a child under the age of 18
  •  once an image or video is shared, they have no control over what happens to it thereafter
  •  an image that was meant for one person can easily get into the wrong hands, e.g. an adult seeking to groom a child could blackmail them by threatening to share it with family, friends or even their school

Why do young people sext?
It can be difficult for parents to understand why a young person would send sexually explicit messages or sexual images of themselves to someone else.

Young people sext for many reasons, including:

  • peer pressure – they think everyone else is doing it
  • they are seeking someone’s approval
  • they see it as cool or fun
  • it’s a way of flirting with someone they like
  • testing their sexual identity and exploring their sexual feelings
  • they may feel it’s easier to ‘give in’ to someone who is asking them to do things
  • they feel harassed or threatened, or are being blackmailed into sending pictures.

The internet has made it much easier for abusers to reach their young victims and it is possible that a child who engages in online sexual activity is being sexually exploited by adult predators.

Thinkuknow has resources to help parents understand why children sext, how to talk to them about it and what to do it their child is affected.  

Criminal action

Though they might not realise it, a young person is breaking the law if they:

  • take explicit photographs or videos of themselves or a friend
  • share explicit photographs of videos of a child, even if it is with someone of the same age, e.g. their boyfriend or girlfriend
  • possess, download or store explicit photographs or videos of a child, even if the child gave them permission for the image or film to be created.

In all these instances, a crime has been committed and must be recorded.

Although the young person has broken the law, the police in Wales (and England) can decide the young person does not pose a risk to others and it would not be in the public interest to take further action. This is known as Outcome 21 and is explained in more detail in Sexting: Guidance for educational settings in Wales (Welsh version).

Crimes recorded in this way mean a young person will not have a criminal record and are unlikely to appear on future records or checks.

What parents can do

  • talk to your child and encourage them to be responsible for their own safety and actions.
  • remind them how any message, image or video they post for one person’s eyes can easily be shared or passed on, if not now then one day in the future.
  • tell them that once something is shared online, there is no way of knowing who will see it – family and friends, teachers, potential employers. One impulsive action could have a far-reaching impact on their life, leading to stress, isolation or even long-term mental health issues.
  • keep up to date with social media trends, new apps, etc.

Getting images removed/reporting indecent images

If an indecent or naked photograph of someone under 18 is posted online, contact the website directly or report it to Internet Watch Foundation who will speak to the website to try to remove the illegal image.

It is also illegal to post an indecent or naked photograph of an adult without their consent. It is not always possible to get these images removed but there is a Revenge Pornography Helpline for over 18s that can help.

Report the posting of an illegal image (or any online abuse) to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP).

More information

NSPCC guidelines aim to help parents protect their children from sexting.

Stop It Now! supports parents and others to recognise and prevent the sexual abuse of children.

Internet Matters and Safer Internet UK have advice about online safety.

Childline offers advice and support to young people concerned about sexting. Tel: 0800 1111.

Last updated: 16/12/2022