Adolescents who engage in sexting are more likely to be victims of partner cyber-abuse

The study led by the UPV/EHU researcher Izaskun Ibabe also concludes that boys internalise the myths of romantic love more

  • Research

First publication date: 08/03/2024

Izaskun Ibabe
Photo: Nagore Iraola. UPV/EHU.

Research led by the lecturer and researcher Izaskun Ibabe of the Faculty of Psychology at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) has concluded that adolescents who practice sexting or who have internalised the myths of romantic love are more likely to perpetrate or suffer partner cyber-abuse. The results of the study point to strategies for designing prevention programmes.

Cyber-abuse has emerged as a new form of violence in romantic relationships. Recent studies show that this is a growing phenomenon worldwide. The use of technologies and digital media to perpetrate any abusive behaviour deliberately and repeatedly against a partner or ex-partner is on the rise. Its consequences are serious and the estimated victimisation rate is 47%. Adolescents are no exception. They are a vulnerable group when facing this type of violence, but the scientific literature on this group remains scarce.

This is the context in which the Faculty of Psychology of the University of the Basque Country conducted collaborative research which analysed the responses of 3,264 adolescents between the ages of 14 and 18; the information had been gathered by the University of Navarra-UNAV on girls and boys in Spain and Latin America. The director of the study Izaskun Ibabe explains that they explored potential risk factors “to analyse how important they might be in partner cyber abuse, and that way try to prevent it”.

One of the variables that bears a direct relationship with partner cyber abuse among adolescents is sexting. In other words, the exchange among peers of messages or images with sexual content via electronic means. The results of the analysis indicate that adolescents who engage in sexting are more likely to become involved in cases of partner cyber abuse. “Although we haven't gone into it in depth, we believe that sexting may turn into an element of risk, for example when there is a troubled break-up; given that if one of the partners wants to engage in abuse, they have content available with which to do so,” Ibabe explained.

They also studied the roles in terms of gender exercised by adolescents in sexting practices. The results show that boys are more likely to engage in passive sexting, indicating that it is more common for boys to request and receive sexual content created and sent by girls.

However, the UPV/EHU lecturer and researcher stresses that this research is novel insofar as it is the first time that the relationship between religiosity and sexting has been studied. The results show that the more attached boys and girls are to religion, the less they engage in sexting practices. “When taking religious values into consideration, this was something we could imagine, but there was no scientific literature on the subject," Ibabe stressed.

The role of romantic love myths

The study also revealed significant differences between girls and boys in terms of romantic love myths (e.g. “jealousy is a sign of love”, “love and abuse are compatible”, “love can do anything”, etc.). The results show that boys have a higher acceptance and internalisation of romantic love myths, and, according to the research, these beliefs have a mediational effect on partner cyber abuse. The greater the belief in romantic love myths, the greater the likelihood of engaging in partner cyber-violence.

The authors of the research believe that the results underline the importance of prevention programmes including the analysis of these myths so that adolescents understand how they influence their intimate relationships. They also believe it would be advisable to work on strategies to identify any type of abusive behaviour in relationships, both offline and online, bearing in mind the unique features of virtual interactions. At the same time, they regard placing an emphasis on learning to use the internet safely as important. They recommend that such prevention programmes be implemented at a very early age, given that the first romantic relationships are occurring earlier and earlier and are laying the foundations for later relationships.

Additional information

Izaskun Ibabe-Erostarbe has a PhD in Psychology and is a tenured lecturer at the UPV/EHU in the area of Behavioural Sciences Methodology. Her main lines of research are domestic violence, in particular filio-parental violence, as well as mental health of immigrants, social exclusion and programme evaluation. She lectures on the Master’s programmes Psychology of Organizations and Psychosocial Intervention and Psychology: Individual, Group, Organization and Culture.

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