This study explored the sexting behaviour of a female adolescent in Cape Town, South Africa. Sexting has rapidly increased in recent years and concerns regarding the risks associated with the behaviour have prompted an increase in research on the topic.
The rationale for the study included an acknowledgement of risks and the prevalence of the behaviour, and thus a need to fully understand sexting to prevent negative outcomes for adolescents. Few qualitative studies exist, meaning that the depth of an individual’s experiences has not been fully explored and nuances of the behaviour may have been missed. Furthermore, few studies have been grounded in specific theories. The purpose of the study was thus to explore a female adolescent’s subjective sexting experiences and perspectives through qualitative means grounded in the Theory of Planned Behaviour. Research questions aimed to explore the existing empirical and theoretical perspectives of sexting, motivations for sexting and consequences of sexting.
An interpretivist research paradigm was employed with a qualitative approach. The research design was a single, descriptive case study and data was gathered through a semi-structured interview, observations and a reflective researcher journal. Selection criteria for sampling the participant included being between the ages of 18 and 19, female and having exposure to the topic. Inductive thematic analysis was conducted on the transcribed interview data to establish themes and subthemes.
The resulting four themes are, firstly, the participant’s definition, conceptualisation and categorisation of sexting; secondly, the participant’s perceptions of motivations for engaging in sexting; thirdly, the participant’s beliefs concerning the consequences of sexting; and lastly, the participant’s ideas on the protection of adolescents from negative consequences of sexting.
To summarise each theme: theme 1 established that the participant defined sexting as being both text-based and image-based and that each has differing purposes with a variety of technological influences. Theme 2 showed that the participant perceived the motivations for sexting to be associated with physical pleasure, emotional pleasure, intimacy, getting attention, seeking a relationship, coercion, a long-distance relationship, and for sexual communication. In theme 3 the participant described the consequences of sexting as being emotional and social and as punishment from adults. Theme 4 presented the participant’s ideas on how adolescents might be protected from the consequences of sexting on an individual level and through interventions by adults.
When compared to the literature, the study confirmed many existing themes, while new data was identified along with gaps in the literature. This prompted recommendations for further research and assisted in informing recommendations for future intervention. The study’s findings added to the qualitative literature on the sexting experiences of a female adolescent. Using the Theory of Planned Behaviour means that the study added to understanding of how the theory may be utilised when qualitatively exploring sexting. Further, a South African case study was added to the body of knowledge on sexting.
sexting behaviour, sexuality, adolescents, theory of planned behaviour, qualitative research, educational psychology