Child pornography laws that mean teens could be charged for using mobile phones to share revealing images of themselves are "excessive and hyped" and need amending, according to a report.

A study led by the University of NSW has found young people are surprised by the legal penalties for sexting, and don't consider all naked or semi-naked pictures as inherently shameful.

The study on sexting focused on 16 to 17-year-olds who are over the age of sexual consent but could face charges for texting photos or video considered to be child pornography by law.

Dr Kath Albury, from UNSW's Journalism and Media Research Centre, said the study found laws need to be updated to take into account the popularity of sexting among young people.

Dr Albury said all Australian jurisdictions need clear guidelines stating child pornography laws do not apply to consensual images shared between young people.

"The child pornography laws are so broad that potentially even a photograph of an under 18-year-old in their bikini could be framed as child pornography," she said.

She said it's presumed the laws apply to people over 18 who are paedophiles looking at child porn images.

Dr Albury said the laws were not designed to apply to peers consensually sharing images of each other.

Confusion around current laws was deterring some young people from reporting threatening or unethical behaviour, she said.

"They are afraid they will be blamed, or even charged, when they confess to taking, or sending a naked picture," she said.

The study found young people were offended by the adult tendency to bundle all naked or partially naked user-generated pictures into the category of sexting.

It also found adults wanted clearer legal guidelines on sexting and help in understanding and responding to young people's use of digital technologies in forming friendships and relationships.

AAP