Before the Internet became the Information Superhighway or the ultimate playground for predator’s or Pandora’s Box and the root of all evil, parents were worried with a little gadget called the telegraph. That’s dinosaur technology for us now but guardians were worried about the creeper at the other end of the wire just as much as they are now with the person behind the profile. Sure there have been many cases of children who have been prey for sick-minded adults but to say that the Internet is a place where children are unsafe and vulnerable is an exaggeration. What’s more, sexting can’t fit under the same umbrella if it’s between people who are romantically involved. Of course we wish that teenagers had better judgment and weren’t so naïve about who they show their nude bodies to; but the danger of being exposed though social media can’t be put in the same danger zone as meeting nefarious strangers. In many cases sexting can be irresponsible but putting you at risk for pregnancy… and rape? That’s a slippery slope.
As shown in Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth Sexting: A National Study, the number of youth involved in the exchange, both consensual and not, of sexual content through social media, is not as alarming as we might have thought. In fact, only 1% of the youth surveyed had been involved in an exchange that potentially violated child pornography laws within the past year (Mitchell et al, 6).
Aside from parents and educators worried about their exhibitionist children, religious leaders are addressing the trend and making it part of their indoctrination – good church going kids don’t sext. In two article posted about the topic: Sexting: Youth Pastors Deal with New Challenges; and Growing Sexting Trend and How to Respond posted on Effective Youth Ministry’s website, only extreme cases are showcased. In the first article the story of a young man who was convicted on charges of child pornography is told – he was eventually placed on the list of sexual offenders. What isn’t emphasized, though, is that the woman who he shared photos of was his girlfriend,17 at the time of the incident. In the second article, faulty data is used to convince readers that sexting is at epidemic levels – it includes people ages 13-26 in its survey sample. A person over eighteen no longer falls under child pornography restrictions – parents have no business monitoring a 26 year old’s sexual behavior.
It’s important to make the distinction of age and relationships because they are important players behind sexting. More importantly, these players are overlooked when measuring the number of teenagers engaging in sexting and the consequences displayed don’t necessarily always follow. They’re poisoning the well – posing a false dilemma, “register at your own risk”.
Church going or non-church going, teenagers are at their hormonal peek, fitting into their new and developing bodies. Who knows if before sexting, email, and Facebook, these kids weren’t exposing themselves in person-to-person contact, or weren’t sending each other sexually explicit messages elsewhere. These mediums have simply made it easier to store and replicate the messages.
Furthermore, the dangers in sexting aren’t in encountering strangers and sexual predators. None of the survey results or examples in the article demonstrate that a child has been molested or sexually assaulted as a result of sexting. That’s not to say that it isn’t dangerous – it’s just a different kind of dangerous. It can harm social relationships, your reputation and future but it won’t put a female at a higher risk of getting pregnant, much less by a stranger. Of course, it’s important to mention that most cases of rape occur between people that know each other. Still, there is no evidence to back the conclusion that sexting leads children to unwanted sexual contact with strangers.
As with most that is mysterious and unknown, sexting is a new practice, and older generations who are not familiar with it are, to no surprise, overly-concerned. It’s an issue but it’s not going to destroy the lives of our youth. It may well be a tool for sexual expression, and a vent safer than frequent sexual encounters. Such content when produced my females may well work as a liberator from gender norms and can be in some ways considered a feminist movement, as discussed by Amy Adele Hasinoff. Not to say that it should be considered media production, though – that’s a leap that implies mass production, which I’m not willing to take.