Sexting is when someone sends or receives a sexually explicit image, video or text, usually on a mobile phone.

This content has been written for children and young people. If you’re looking for information for over 18s, visit our Types of Crime information about image-based sexual abuse.

Sexting can include:

  • sexual or ‘dirty’ pictures
  • naked pictures and selfies
  • explicit text messages
  • pictures in your underwear, or not wearing many clothes.
Teenage girl texting

It seems like everyone is taking selfies. It might also feel like all your friends are sexting, or that if you’re only sharing sexy pictures with your boyfriend or girlfriend it’s okay. But sexting  – creating or sharing sexual images or videos of a child or young person under 18 – is actually illegal.

By sending explicit images, according to the law you are producing and distributing indecent images of children – which means you could be prosecuted for it, even if you have given your permission for this to happen and know the person you are sending it to.

It’s not just about the law. Imagine how you would feel if a lot of people – both those you know, and those you don’t – saw a naked picture of you. It can easily happen. Once you send a photo or an image to someone you lose control of where it goes next. Even someone you like or trust could send it on to their friends, or save it somewhere online. Remember, pictures you take and send privately may become public and permanent – and the police may even get involved.

If you’re still thinking of taking a naked or sexual selfie and sending it to someone, Thinkuknow (the website aimed at making sure young people can have fun and still stay safe online) has put together some questions you should ask yourself first. These include:

Why am I doing it? Are there other, less permanent ways of showing your boyfriend or girlfriend that you care? Do you feel under pressure to send one?

Are you doing it for you or for them? Someone who really cares about you won’t put you under pressure.

What if I don’t do it? Think about the consequences of not sending the picture – are they worse than what could happen if you do send it? Do you think the other person will think less of you? If so, then do they really care about you?

Would I do it face to face? If you’re in a relationship you might not feel ready to start having sex. If you’re not, are you really ready to share sexy pictures?

Does it pass the ‘billboard test’? Would you put it on a billboard? Would you share it with your dad, mum, nan or teacher? If not, don’t share it online.

Yes, it is only a picture. But it’s a picture of you, naked or with very few clothes on, which you are thinking about taking and sharing privately. And there’s no guarantee it will stay private.

So, with thanks again to Thinkuknow, here’s a few reasons why you shouldn’t send that selfie:

Once it’s gone, it’s gone: if someone sends it further, deliberately or even by accident, who knows where it might end up? What if your mum, dad, school friends or teacher saw it?

Bullies go for it: you may have heard stories of teenagers who have been badly bullied because of naked pictures online. If you’re being bullied because of an image, you can get help.

It’s against the law: if you’re under 18, it’s illegal to take or share an ‘indecent’ picture of yourself, or to look at or share someone else’s… if it’s naked, a topless girl, or contains genitals or sex acts, it will be ‘indecent’.

You could be blackmailed: if you send a picture you wouldn’t want other people to see, someone could threaten to show everyone else unless you give them what they want.

This can be a very upsetting situation, but posting sexual pictures of anyone under the age of 18 online is against the law, and there are things you can do to make sure the pictures are taken down. Talk to an adult you can trust, they can help you to work out what to do next. You or they can contact the person who posted the material and demand they take it down. You can also report the image or video immediately to the website in question, and untag yourself in any photos so they’re not connected to you.

If you were under 18 when the pictures or video were taken then the law may regard them as ‘indecent images of a child’, which are illegal to make, possess or distribute. So even keeping such images on a computer or phone counts as ‘possession’, and texting them or posting them online count as ‘distribution’. These are regarded as serious crimes, and letting your former partner know that they could face a prison sentence may be enough to get them to take down the pictures. If not, you may want to think about reporting this to the police.

Even if you are in a long-term relationship, it’s important that you understand the risks involved in sexting, both legally and emotionally.

It’s illegal for anyone to make or possess indecent or sexual images of someone under the age of 18. So if someone takes sexual photographs or video of you, they are breaking the law – even if they are your partner. If you’re under 18 then sending a naked image of yourself via text or social media is technically illegal. The law doesn’t distinguish between an indecent image of you and an indecent image of someone else, so you could receive a police caution – or worse.

The police have said that young people engaging in sexting are unlikely to face prosecution as first time offenders, but any situation like this will still be investigated to make sure that the young people involved are not at risk. The aim of the law is to protect children and young people, so it’s an issue that will be taken seriously.

If someone has sexual photographs or videos of you, you have little control over how they use them, or who they send them to. Although they are breaking the law by having them on their device, or by distributing them, it can also be very upsetting for you if they do decide to send them to other people.

Talk to an adult you can trust – maybe a youth worker, your support worker, a teacher or your parents – about what is happening. And you can read more about how to stay safe online and protect yourself.

No, you’re not in trouble, but they may be. It’s illegal to make or send indecent images of children and young people; even if the person or people in the pictures is over 18, it’s illegal to send pornographic images to children and young people. So if you worried or upset about what you’ve been sent, talk to an adult you can trust about what’s happened.

If the message has been sent by a friend as a joke, explaining that you don’t like receiving that sort of material, and that it’s breaking the law, could solve the problem. If the message has been sent to threaten or harass you, or has come from someone you don’t know, you might want to report the crime to police.

Remember, don’t share anyone else’s sexual pictures. If you send on an indecent picture or video of someone without their consent you’re breaking the law too, and taking part in abuse.

Victim Support’s Children and Young People Services – you can contact your nearest Victim Support office, call the 24/7 Supportline, contact us via live chat, or if you are 16 or older, you can create a My Support Space account. This is a free, safe and secure online space where you can work through interactive guides to help you move forward after crime.

Childline – 24-hour support for young people, both on the phone and through online chats and message boards, on sexual assault, sexual abuse and a range of other issues: 0800 1111.

Thinkuknow – provides information for children and young people on sex, relationships and the internet.

The Mix – information and support for under25s on a whole range of issues. Get confidential help by email, text, webchat or phone: 0808 808 4994.