young woman with mobile phone

A study1 aimed at gauging the impact of sexting2 on the mental health of Australians aged 18-30 years has found that 53.1 per cent had sent a sexually explicit message in the past 12 months and 43.1 percent had sent a sexually explicit image. When asked about receiving such messages 61.2 percent of respondents said they had received a sexually explicit message and 55.1 per cent had received a sexually explicit image.

Sexting seems to be common,” the researchers reported, adding that rates even higher were found in a study of a university population in the USA - 67.4 percent. Presumably where America goes Australia will eventually follow.

Moreover, a high ratio of respondents (73.1 per cent) thought that sexting can have a “positive impact”, with the majority saying that sexting had either nil or a positive effect on their mood.

The story was reversed when unsolicited or unwanted sexts were received, with 55.3 per cent of respondents reporting an elevated distress score of 12 or more on the widely recognised Kessler 6 (K6) psychological distress scale. They said the more sexts they received, the more likely they were to be distressed.

Women and LGBTQI respondents were the most distressed by unsolicited sexts, the latter almost twice as likely to be. Factors such as age, relationship status, rurality, study, and employment status appear to have no significant impact.

It is acknowledged that it may not be the sexting practices per se, but the degree to which these practices are consensual that matters”.

The data collection for the study was undertaken over four days at a music festival in northern NSW. A total of 776 respondents completed the survey in private, with 63.7 percent being female. The highest proportion (49.4 per cent) of respondents were 21–24 years of age, 85.3 per cent lived in urban areas, 49.0 percent were in a relationship, and 89.4 percent identified as heterosexual. Some 56.6 percent reported studying part-time or full time, and 91.9 per cent reported some level of employment.

The results indicate clearly that receiving unsolicited sext messages can be a significant predictor of distress, with respondents who had received between three and five unsolicited sexts in the previous 12 months being twice as likely to be distressed, and those who had received more than five unsolicited sexts being 2.4 times more likely to be distressed.

The study also looked at the linkage, if any, between alcohol consumption and the likelihood of being affected by sexting. They found that respondents who had consumed more than six standard alcoholic drinks on one occasion at least once a month were less likely to be distressed than those who had not.

(A previous study by some of the same researchers of sexual behaviour by attendees at another local music festival (see GPSpeak, Novemmber 16: Young condom users too cocky about their skills) found that those consuming alcohol before sex were less likely to use condoms, or to fit them properly).

Drinking more than six drinks on one occasion was predictive for reduced distress, with participants who drank that amount monthly… or weekly having a lower likelihood of being distressed than those who binge drank rarely or never,” they noted.

The study said “the prevalence of sexting in younger age groups (e.g. 13-17-year-olds) and its impact on mental health is a potential area for future research, especially given the impact of factors such as sexual identity on mental health, and the increasing prevalence of serious mental illness in young people…

Further research could explore the impact of unsolicited sexting and include coercion measures. Policymakers and program developers should be aware of the positive and negative impact of sexting.”


  1. Sexting and Mental Health Among Young Australians Attending a Musical Festival: A Cross Sext-ional Study - Sally Valiukas, MacKenzie Pickering, Thomas Hall, Nilasi Seneviratne, Amy Aitken, Franklin John-Leader, and Sabrina W. Pit (School of Medicine, University Centre for Rural Health, Lismore, Western Sydney University, in CYBERPSYCHOLOGY, BEHAVIOR, AND SOCIAL NETWORKING Volume 22, Number 8, 2019 Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2018.0671
  2. ‘Sexting’ means sending or receiving messages, photographs or videos of a sexual nature on any platform, for example, text, Facebook, Snapchat, or Tinder, and is prevalent among young adults.