Sexting (portmanteau of sex and texting) refers to the sending of erotic or pornographic content via mobile phones.

What is sexting?

Sexting initially referred to the exchange of SMS messages with sexual content, but has now extended to include other types of messaging or online media.

The Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) describes it as “taking photos or recording videos or audio, or allowing others to do so in an intimate or compromising situation”. According to a survey published by the Basque Country University (Spain) in 2018, 31% of 11 to 16 year-olds in Spain claimed to have 'sexted'.


Why do people engage in sexting?

Sharing explicit personal photographs is nothing new; the exchange of such images, especially among young people, goes back to way before the digital era.

Yet, given the widespread use and availability of text messaging and cameras in smartphones, it has become much easier and quicker to send explicit personal photos. Since 2008, coinciding with the boom in messaging services, sexting has become popular with teens and pre-teens the world over.

The problem with sexting lies precisely in the ease with which images can be sent, and can then be used intentionally or not to humiliate the subjects of the photos. The practice itself may just be part of an intimate game between two consenting participants, but can give rise to crimes such as sextorsion or revenge porn. And the breach of privacy can be difficult to mitigate. When a photo is published online, it is almost impossible to remove it everywhere and retrieve all copies.


What is sextorsion?

This is a type of blackmail that uses compromising images of the victim that are shared on the Internet (sexting). The victim is then pressured into having sex with the blackmailer, take part in pornographic videos or pay a ransom.

The blackmail is usually carried out over the Internet, as it offers the perpetrators some anonymity, and could be the work of ex-partners or others that may or not be known to the victim. The images may have been obtained within the context of a relationship or through webcams, email, messaging, smartphones or other devices.

Basic tips regarding sexting

If you send a compromising photo of yourself via messaging or Internet, especially if not encrypted, you always run the risk of losing control over how and where the image is used.

  • Don't take such photos or videos
  • Don't forward compromising photos or videos, either of yourself or anyone else.
  • Don't ask others to send you such images.

Sexting in data protection law

The Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) has published a guide to the types of activities in which spreading information regarding other people via the Internet can be considered criminal behavior.

Specifically, it is a serious offence to publish without consent compromising images taken or sent in a private context. This includes those who share such material via social networks, etc., even if they don't know the subjects of the images.

Anyone taking part in the publication or sharing of this material is liable to fines or prison sentences ranging from three months to a year (Article 197.1 of the Spanish Penal Code).