Rethinking risk in adults’ engagement with sexual digital imagery

Jennifer Power*, Gary W. Dowsett, Andrea Waling, Alexandra James, Lily Moor, Nicole Shackleton, Anne-Maree Farrell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Camera-equipped smartphones and other devices allow people to capture and share images directly with others in ways that are spontaneous, instant and relatively inexpensive. Such sharing is a common part of modern sexual intimacies, despite media and educational discourses warning of potential risks. This paper reports on a qualitative study in which we interviewed 23 Australian adults about the ways in which they used with digital sexual imagery in their sex lives. The study aimed to explore participants’ experiences of digital sexual self-image creation and sharing and the ways discourses of risk and safety shape these experiences. Findings showed that participants tended to view the creation and exchange of sexual images as a form of sexual play that built intimacy, sexual tension and eroticism into their relationships and expanded their sexual and relationship experiences in positive ways. Participants were aware that sending sexual or nude images left them vulnerable to potential harm or unwanted sexual exposure and were concerned that some people would view such practices as foolish or irresponsible given these risks held such high profile. These concerns meant participants were often secretive about their experiences although the sense of risk and vulnerability in these exchanges enhanced intimacy or eroticism for some participants. We conclude that educational approaches to managing digital risk should recognise that people often have positive digital sexual experiences that can lead them to disengage from fear-based messaging.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalSexuality Research and Social Policy
Early online date7 Jul 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Jul 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • digital technologies and sex
  • sexting
  • digital sexual images
  • risk
  • digital sexual imagery


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