Sexting Definitions and Other Terms

April 8, 2019

Far too often, language and research about sexting can describe very different behaviours. The list of definitions below is how The White Hatter classifies and uses technological sexual terminology. We believe these are the most accurate and clear explanations of commonly used terms.


Sexual communication of any kind between technological devices. These behaviours include both sexual messages that may or may not include imagery depicting partially naked or fully nude genitalia.

Nude/Intimate Images:

Visual media either photograph or video that contains an individual’s genitalia exposed.

Distribution of Intimate Images:

Knowingly publishing, distributing, transmitting, selling, making available, or advertising an intimate image of a person with the knowledge that the person depicted in the image did not give their consent; being reckless as to whether or not individual gave their consent.


Threats or action of distributing nude/intimate images that are weaponized with the purpose of extortion and blackmail for financial, social, and other personal gains.


Printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity used in the entertainment industry.


Have you ever come across a statistic about sexting online that you find frightening or hyperbolized? Chances are very likely that you have seen some headlines with titles similar to:

“1 in (x) teens are sexting.”

The biggest question whenever we see these types of claims and reports is, “How is the word sexting being used?” In public discourse about online sexual behaviour, the word “sexting” can be very misleading in how it is used.

At The White Hatter, we love studying academic research to support our educational programs. Peer-reviewed research helps quantify behaviours happening from a global perspective. Also, reviewing specific qualitative case studies provides insight on nuances not identified in large surveys. Industry professional reports often further support academic research and sometimes provide legitimate challenges to academics or address subject matters not easily assessable to university researchers. Combined with our firsthand engagements with today’s youth, helping them to understand digital literacy, and assisting them in sometimes severe online circumstances, we are very immersed with the public, private, and academic discourse on various digital topics. Throughout all industries, including academics, educators, law enforcement, media, and even private individuals, the term “sexting” is often not clearly defined. Without clear definitions, there are concerns when reporting and discussing subjects that some may find uncomfortable.

The meaning of sexting between two people can be completely different. From our experience, often many people in the public believe sexting must involve nude explicit imagery. Here is the problem with the ambiguous meaning of the term as researchers, either academic or industry, do not always specify nude explicit imagery in online messaging as sexting. In many research studies, the act of sexual text-only messages is also classified as sexting. Even images of someone wearing underwear are also often included in sexting definitions. The term “sexting” is far too vague but still has a place in identifying any digital sexual expression and communication.

Having presented to well over 440,000 students across North America and speaking with these youth and young adults we find they rarely use the word “sext” in their regular discourse and rather chose to use the term “nude” when talking about naked explicit imagery. We at The White Hatter agree with these usages of the words. This also makes a lot of logical sense. Much like how offline sexual behaviour does not need to include nude explicit actions. Sexting, being the online equivalent of offline sexual behaviour, does not need to include nude explicit images. In other words, offline people can be sexual without needing to be completely naked, therefore, sexting can happen without sending nude images.

Going forward with assuming that sexting must include nude imagery of a person’s genitalia limits or removes the language ability to discuss broader online sexual behaviour. Treating sexting as a global overall term and then breaking it down into specific behaviours provides teachers, parents, law enforcement, counsellors, investigators, youth, and other adults the ability to more accurately discuss online sexual behaviour, more effetely identify, and deal with criminality when it comes to distribution of intimate images or sextortion.

Please think about the word sexting.

· Next time you read a heading talking about sexting, ask yourself

“How does this article define its use of the word sexting?”

· Next time you talk or post about sexting ask yourself

“How do I define sexting?” and “How will others understand my use of the word sexting?”

Brandon Laur

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