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sexting & pornography

Sexting and pornography can both have lasting psychological effects on the young mind, and can often lead to problems later on in life. Oftentimes, sexting and pornography cross paths when a minor is involved. Learn about sexting and pornography addiction, associated consequences, and mental health side effects.

What is sexting?

Sexting is the sending of sexual text messages that are erotic or pornographic in nature. Initially, it referred only to the sending of texts that were sexual in nature -- but later it also began to encompass the sending of pornographic videos and photos through cell phones, computers, and social networking apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp. 

Oftentimes, sexting is used in social networking to obtain nude and half-naked photos. These photos and videos can be sold on adult websites or uploaded as revenge as well as extortion and blackmail (revenge porn, which is classified as a felony in most states). Unfortunately, a photo shared between two people can quickly become viral. 

What classifies as pornography?

Pornography is any material that is designed to arouse or give sexual pleasure to the individual who is being exposed to it. What is considered to be "porn" is constantly changing because what is socially acceptable is evolving. Definition of pornography: "The depiction of nudity or erotic behavior, in writing, pictures, video, or otherwise, with intent to cause sexual excitement."

Sexting and porn addiction

Sexting and pornography addiction is the number one sub-type of Internet addiction. Pocket porn has become a significant problem for men and sexting is becoming a more significant problem for women. According to The Center for Internet Addiction, people who suffer from low self-esteem, a distorted body image, untreated sexual dysfunction, or a prior sexual addiction are more apt to develop pornography and sexting addiction problems. The costs of online sex and porn addiction can include emotional and physical health problems, as well as legal, family, and career consequences.


Pornography use is widespread and often problematic, and generally has a negative impact on couples and gender relations -- it has been shown to lead men and women to devalue each other. Pornography tends to be is dominated by hostile sexism, frequent violence, and general dehumanization and objectification. Watching pornography essentially short-circuits other systems and doesn't just become addictive, but can also undermine attachment and intimacy. 

Sexting can be a symptom or manifestation of sexual addiction, which is an addiction with destructive consequences. With mobile devices making sexting readily available, sexting addiction has become even more widespread.

Consequences of cybersex addiction

Pornography addiction can lead to:

  • Sexual dysfunction

    • Impotence (inability to form or maintain an erection)​

    • Premature ejaculation

  • Preoccupation with sexual thoughts throughout the day

  • Guilt, shame, or confusion

  • Ambivalence about stopping, or cycles or stopping and restarting

  • Tendency toward other impulsive behaviors or addictions

  • Depression, anxiety, or other co-occurring psychological disorders

  • Not wanting to seek person-to-person sexual contact or diminished patience for sexual contact (e.g., wanting to have sex right away, or fantasizing or obsessing about sexual contact with random strangers)

  • Decline in romantic or sexual interactions with one's partner, such as:

    • Inability to become aroused​

    • Increasing need for more aggression or dominance

    • Emotional detachment

Studies have shown that pornography viewers have higher levels of depressive symptoms.
Addiction to pornography often shows a correlation with substance abuse.

Consequences of sexting include:

  • There is a risk that their image will be made available to others

    • Can lead to self-harming, self-isolation, and restricting their dietary intake​

    • Can lead to high levels of anxiety and the development, or exacerbation of, depressive symptoms

  • If an adolescent does not get the response they wished for from sending the image or video:

    • It can have a negative impact on their self-esteem and body image​

    • They may also experience bullying that further decreases their self-esteem

  • Young people who sext are more likely to engage in other risky sexual activity which can impact their mental state

  • Some young people can be coerced or blackmailed into more sexting, which can lead to emotional trauma

  • Images that people have sent could possibly reappear on websites years later, leading to the deterioration of that person's mental state or interfere with their future prospects (jobs, relationships, etc.)

  • In some states, anyone who creates, possesses, or distributes nude or explicit photos of a minor can be charged with child pornography or related crimes (e.g., sexual exploitation of a minor)

Sexting and Federal Law

Depending on the circumstances, sexting may also be a crime under federal law.

The Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act of 2003 makes it illegal to produce, distribute, receive, or possess with intent to distribute any obscene visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Knowing possession of such material—without intent to distribute—is also a crime under the PROTECT Act. (18 U.S.C. § 1466A(a)(1).)

Federal law also criminalizes causing a minor to take part in sexually explicit conduct in order to visually depict that conduct. Parents who allow this behavior can also be prosecuted. (18 U.S.C. § 2251.)

It’s also a federal crime to use a computer to ship, transport, receive, distribute, or reproduce for distribution a depiction of a minor actually engaging in sexually explicit conduct, or any material that otherwise constitutes child pornography. It’s another federal crime to promote or solicit sexually explicit material involving a minor. (18 U.S.C. § § 2252, 2252A.)

But federal prosecution of juveniles for sexting may be unlikely. The Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (FJDA) generally provides that, where possible, juveniles should be prosecuted in state—not federal—courts. (18 U.S.C. § 5032.)


Signs and symptoms of cybersex addiction

  • Excessive viewing of pornography

    • The definition of "excessive" depends on what you consider healthy. If pornography starts to have a negative impact on some aspect of your life, it may be defined as "excessive"​

  • Watching pornography interferes with normal daily habits or responsibilities

  • You begin to develop a "tolerance" to pornography and begin to search for more stimulating genres

  • There is a sense of emotional distress or a feeling of withdrawal when porn is stopped

  • Continued use of pornography despite destructive behavior 

    • e.g., loss of a relationship or job, contraction of an STD​

  • Compulsive masturbation

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Use of pornography has begun to negatively affect relationships

    • It is more difficult to become aroused by your partner​

    • Romantic/sexual behavior between you and your partner changes (you may become more detached, aggressive, or dominant)

  • You obtain a "high" when you watch pornography -- you typically do this to avoid unpleasant feelings like anxiety or depression

  • Emotional detachment

  • Becoming more withdrawn in social situations

Do you think you may have a problem with online sex addiction? Click here to take an online self-assessment on

If you believe you are battling a cybersex addiction, there is help available.

SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. If you find yourself battling addiction, call their National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP. Click "Learn More" to visit SAMHSA's website.

Do you know your net? Click "Take Quiz Now" if you think you're ready to test your #NetKnowledge!

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