Dr Emily Setty

Lecturer in Criminology
+44 (0)1483 686974
11 AD 03


Areas of specialism

Youth; Sexual culture; Qualitative research; Sexual consent ; Digital culture

University roles and responsibilities

  • Programme Director for Criminology
  • MSc Dissertation Lead for the Department of Sociology
  • Disability Liaison Officer for the Department of Sociology


    Research interests


    Postgraduate research supervision

    Postgraduate research supervision

    My teaching

    My publications


    Setty, E (2019) A Rights-Based Approach to Youth Sexting: Challenging Risk, Shame, and the Denial of Rights to Bodily and Sexual Expression Within Youth Digital Sexual Culture
    Educational interventions on youth sexting often focus on individual sexters or would-be sexters, and are driven by the aim of encouraging young people to abstain from producing and sharing personal sexual images. This approach has been criticised for failing to engage with the complex sociocultural context to youth sexting. Drawing upon qualitative group and one-to-one interviews with 41 young people aged 14 to 18 living in a county in south-east England, I explore young people’s perceptions and practices surrounding sexting. By taking a grounded theory approach to the research, I reveal how young people’s shaming of digitally mediated sexual self-expression shaped and was shaped by a denial of rights to bodily and sexual autonomy and integrity. This denial of rights underpinned harmful sexting practices, including violations of privacy and consent, victim blaming, and bullying. I conclude that responses to youth sexting should attend to this broader youth cultural context, emphasise the roles and responsibilities of bystanders, and encourage a collectivist digital sexual ethics based upon rights to one’s body and freedom from harm (Albury,  19(5):713–725, ; Dobson and Ringrose,  16(1):8–21, ).
    New Media and Society2017Sex Education2015
    Setty E (2019) Journal of Youth Studies 'Confident' and 'hot' or 'desperate' and 'cowardly'? Meanings of young men's sexting practices in youth sexting culture
    Young men tend to be constructed as being at low risk of harm and able to extract value from sexting, compared to young women. Drawing upon findings from a qualitative study exploring practices and perceptions of sexting among 14–18 year-old participants in southeast England, I discuss the meanings and norms surrounding young men’s sexting practices. I outline how these meanings and norms underpinned perceptions regarding the value available to young men through sexting. Young men were not, however, equally able to extract value and social capital through sexting, and participants discussed examples of the social shaming of young men who sext. I discuss how young men took up diverse positions with regard to masculine heterosexuality within youth sexting culture, in which they reworked and challenged the ideals and assumptions inherent to ‘hegemonic masculinity’. I draw two conclusions: firstly, it should not be assumed that young men are inherently able to gain value through sexting; secondly, narratives of risk and shame may mean that while young men distance themselves from sexting, gendered assumptions and inequalities regarding bodily and sexual expression remain.
    Setty E (2018) Young people's attributions of privacy rights and obligations in youth sexting culture
    Youth sexters are considered vulnerable to privacy violations in the form of unauthorized distribution, in which sexts are distributed beyond the intended recipient without the consent of the subject. This article draws on group and one-to-one interviews with young people 14 to 18 years of age living in southeastern England to show how they constructed privacy rights and obligations in sexting. The analysis suggests that their constructions were shaped by individualistic orientations to risk management, social meanings of privacy in the “digital world,” and broader norms and values regarding gender, trust, and approved conduct of behavior in intimate relationships. The article concludes that educational and community interventions on sexting with young people should deconstruct and challenge narrow ethical frameworks regarding privacy rights and obligations, and young people’s tendency to blame and responsibilize victims of privacy violations in sexting.
    Setty E (2018) Meanings of Bodily and Sexual Expression in Youth Sexting Culture: Young Women’s Negotiation of Gendered Risks and Harms
    The present paper explores how young people construct gendered social meanings and cultural norms surrounding sexual and bodily expression in youth sexting culture. Previous research suggests youth sexting is a gendered phenomenon in which young men are able to seek social capital through sexting, whereas young women are subject to social shaming and harassment. Drawing upon findings from group and one-to-one interviews with 41 young people aged 14–18, I show how constructs of risk, shame, and responsibility operated along gendered lines. Young people attributed agency and legitimacy to young men’s sexual practices, whereas young women were disempowered, denied legitimacy, and tasked with managing gendered risks of harm in youth sexting culture. I discuss how young women negotiated and navigated risk and shame and, in some instances, made space for safe, pleasurable sexting experiences despite and within these narratives. The accounts of two young women, who shared experiences sexting and social shaming, are presented to show some of the ways young women make sense of social meanings and cultural norms on individual and interpersonal levels. I conclude that challenging gendered harm requires a (re)legitimisation of feminine sexuality and bodily expression away from narratives of risk and shame.
    Setty E (2018) Sexting ethics in youth digital cultures: risk, shame and the negotiation of privacy and consent
    This thesis explores young people’s perceptions and practices surrounding ‘youth sexting’, particularly regarding privacy and consent. Youth sexting – involving the production and exchange of sexual images or messages via mobile phones and other communication technologies – has attracted media attention, public concern, and research and policy focus for some time, particularly regarding the perceived harmful nature of the practice (Crofts et al., 2015). This thesis situates harmful practices in terms of breaches of privacy and consent. The research is used to advocate for progressive, harm-reduction approaches to responding to youth sexting that centralise ethics, justice and equality, and give rights to sexual and bodily expression and exploration, as well as freedom from harm. Group and one-to-one interviews with young people revealed narratives of individualism and responsibilisation regarding harmful sexting practices. Intertwined were moralising discourses about harm-avoidance, which underpinned a demarcation of deserving and undeserving victims, and promoted victim-blaming. Analyses revealed however, that risk and harm was not inherent to sexting and was shaped by norms and standards surrounding gender and sexuality, and local peer group dynamics and hierarchies. The designation of some forms of bodily and sexual expression as shameful and illegitimate shaped harmful practices and were incorporated into young people’s self-concepts in ways that both reproduced and resisted established systems of meaning. The findings suggest that rather than being caused by technology, youth sexting should be understood as a complex, negotiated practice situated within young people’s peer, digital, relational, and sexual cultures. The thesis explores young people’s perspectives on addressing youth sexting, and concludes by emphasising the need to disrupt and challenge the meanings underpinning shame and stigma, and the responsibilisation of individuals to deal with inequality and harm.
    Setty E and Ringrose J () Youth sexting Encyclopaedic Entry
    Setty E (2020) Risk and harm in youth sexting culture: Young people's perspectives
    This book draws upon interviews with teenage young people to explore their perspectives on risk and harm in ‘youth sexting culture’. It focuses specifically on digital sexual image-sharing among young people. It contextualises the findings in terms of the wider literature on youth sexting and the broader theoretical and conceptual debates about the phenomenon in public and academic spheres. The book explores young people’s attitudes toward and experiences of non-consensual sexting and privacy violations. It analyses the broader sociocultural context to youth sexting and discusses issues such as victim-blaming, social shaming and bullying within youth sexting culture. It reflects upon the nature of predominant approaches to responding to youth sexting (both legal and educational/pedagogic) and identifies what young people want and need when it comes to addressing risk and harm, based upon what the evidence shows about their situated realities and lived experiences. Public and academic discourse surrounding youth sexting, and the legal and educational policy responses to the phenomenon have developed and changed over recent years. The field is increasingly contested and there are ongoing debates about how to protect young people from harm while respecting their rights as individuals and encouraging them to develop into ethical sexual citizens, including within digital environments. This book presents empirical data to show how risk and harm in youth sexting culture is predicated upon a denial of rights to sexual and bodily integrity, autonomy and legitimacy.
    Setty, E. (2020) Sex and consent in contemporary youth sexual culture: the ‘ideals’ and the ‘realities’
    Sexual consent has increasingly become a central component of Relationships and Sex Education. This paper draws upon findings from qualitative research conducted with teenagers in England, which explored their perspectives on consent within their contemporary youth sexual cultures, including in digital (sexting) contexts. The findings suggest that young people’s definitions of consent often did not correspond to the socially- and contextually contingent realities of negotiating and establishing consensual sex(ting). While young people’s contemporary sexual cultures may look somewhat different, longstanding gender norms and sexual scripts shaped their attitudes towards consent. The implications of the findings for RSE are discussed, including the need for more collaborative dialogue and exchange between educators and learners that engages with the situated realities of contemporary youth sexual culture.
    Setty E (2021) Pornography as a cultural resource for constructing and expressing gendered sexual subjectivities among students in a co-educational boarding school
    This paper draws upon research conducted in a co-educational independent boarding school in England to explore the role of pornography in students’ school-based sexual cultures. Drawing upon Mechling’s conceptualization of boarding schools as ‘total institutions’, I explore how pornography acted as both ‘play’ and ‘ritual’ through which participants asserted agency and control while producing a gendered social order surrounding sex and sexuality. Participants who spoke about pornography drew upon dominant understandings of masculine and feminine (hetero)sexuality when positioning themselves and one another regarding pornography. They tended to construct viewing pornography as a ‘typical’ and ‘normal’ part of masculine (hetero)sexuality but as antithetical to feminine (hetero)sexuality. Some of the boys expressed ambivalence and uncertainty about pornography, but this was often grounded in taken-for-granted gendered constructs about sexual performance and accomplishment. Socially approved expressions of agency and control within the research environment were, therefore, both reflective and constitutive of a gendered and heteronormative social order. I suggest that sex education should attend to the role that pornography plays as a cultural resource through which young people construct, express and designate gendered sexual subjectivities and social roles.
    Setty E (2021) ‘Frexting’: exploring homosociality among girls who share intimate images
    This paper presents an examination of ‘frexting’ (‘friend’ + ‘sexting’), which is defined as the exchange of personally-produced intimate images among friends. It draws upon accounts of frexting shared by teenage girls during a 2016 study investigating sexting conducted in Surrey, England. Frexting is theorised as a form of homosociality among girls and explores the extent to which and how it reflects, reproduces and subverts the dominant gendered social order within youth digital intimacies. The analysis suggests that while frexting involves intimate self-representation away from the male gaze, it reflects and reinforces a post-feminist cultural landscape characterised by (self-)scrutiny and regulation of girls’ bodies and bodily self-representations. Frexting worked to demonstrate an authentic, relaxed, carefree and confident but, importantly, non-sexual sensibility, with implications for who and what constitutes legible participation. While subverting normative interpretations of girls’ bodies as inherently, and problematically, sexual, frexting did not fundamentally trouble the post-feminist cultural landscape within which the girls were operating. The paper concludes by arguing that for frexting to become a truly emancipatory endeavour, it is necessary to dismantle the socio-cultural context that restricts and regulates girls’ abilities to relate to and represent their bodies.
    Setty E (2021) Young people and online harms: Expanding digital safety educational interventions
    Young people’s use of digital and internet technologies, particularly the risks and harms they face online, continues to be of public and policy concern. Adult stakeholders – parents, teachers, law enforcement, youth practitioners, policy makers and researchers – are, in various ways, mindful of how young people can be protected from so-called online harms while not unduly curtailing their opportunities to reap the benefits of being online. The UK government’s Online Safety Bill seeks to do just that (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, 2021) and since September 2021 it has been mandatory for most schools in England to educate young people about digital safety as part of the newly introduced Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) curriculum (Department for Education, 2019). This article does not directly engage in a critique of the specifics of this policy and practice agenda (see Nash, 2019, for a dissection of the issues with the online harms policy proposals). Instead, I discuss findings from some recent research conducted with young people about their perspectives on online harms in order to explore how we should seek to understand and respond to the realities of young people’s digital lives, in all their complexity and heterogeneity. On the basis of the findings, I argue that individualistic, technical and decontextualised solutions to online harms will not suffice in light of, first, the high levels of normalisation (and fatalism) surrounding potentially harmful online experiences; and, second, the social and structural contingencies that shape young people’s digital lives and thus give rise to an unequal terrain of risk. It is urgent that educational interventions raise young people’s critical consciousness about the nature of risk and harm online, not necessarily to solve the issues but to enable them to connect what they see and experience online to wider inequities and injustices. In so doing, interventions can support their resilience in a way that is sensitive to the differential risks that young people face and can encourage reporting and positive models of bystander intervention online.
    Lloyd J and Setty E (2020) Expert insight: Understanding and responding to sexting
    The previous indicator looked at adolescents’ experiences of online harm. It includes data from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which shows that increasing numbers of online sexual abuse images involving adolescents are being identified. This rise is partly driven by an increase in ‘self-produced’ content, where young people had taken and shared images themselves. Here Dr Jenny Lloyd and Dr Emily Setty look at why adolescents sext, when this behaviour becomes harmful and what can be done to tackle it.
    Setty, E (2022) Young People’s Perspectives on Online Hate, Unwanted Sexual Content, and ‘Unrealistic’ Body- and Appearance-Related Content: Implications for Resilience and Digital Citizenship
    Young people encounter and experience both risks and opportunities when participating as actors and interactors in online spaces. Digital skills and resilience are considered important parts of a “rights-based” approach to keeping young people “safe” online in ways that enable them to avoid harm while benefiting from the opportunities. The present paper discusses findings from focus group research conducted in England with 60 young people aged 13 to 21. The research explored their perspectives on responding to different online harms, including online hate, unwanted sexual content, and unrealistic body- and appearance-related content. The findings are discussed in terms of scholarship on digital citizenship, specifically regarding the social, affective, and technical dimensions of online life and the skills required for resilience. The analysis suggests that there was a tension between young people’s individualistic responsibilisation of themselves and one another for responding to risk online and the socio-emotional aspects of online life as perceived and recounted by them in the focus groups. It is concluded that a youth-centred approach to resilience is required that encapsulates the multidimensional nature of encountering, experiencing, and responding to risk online.
    Setty E (2022) Digital media and relationships, sex, and health education in the classroom
    Young people’s socio-sexual lives and development have become increasingly digitally mediated over recent years. There are implications for classroom-based Relationships, Sex, and Health Education (RSHE), which has recently been made mandatory in most state-maintained schools in England. The evidence base pertaining to good practice in RSHE is extensive and identifies a need for RSHE to be relatable and relevant to learners, and to position learners as active participants in the pedagogic process. Typically, young people’s use of digital media is considered a risk or problem to address in RSHE and this includes their use of digital media for formal and informal learning about sex and relationships. This paper explores the potential value of digital media to classroom based RSHE. It considers how using digital media in the classroom could help to convey material in a relatable and relevant way, including how the ‘influencer model’ may represent a new opportunity for or form of peer delivered education. It also discusses the value of strengthening young people’s skills in identifying reliable and trustworthy content and in applying the content to their own lives, which may necessitate opportunities for independent and self-directed learning away from the classroom.