Never before in history has media content been so easily produced and distributed than right now, at the turn of the 21st century. The advent of the internet and new technologies have revealed new methods for communicating and connecting and the demographic trend is toward a younger population. The youth have taken these new tools and wholly redefined what it means to have a social life. One of these tools is “texting”: the ability to exchange brief text messages (including multimedia) between mobile phones or networks. Texts are one of the more popular features of mobile phones and it didn’t take long before this method of communication paved the way for a new term, “sexting.” It’s essentially the same as a text, except containing sexually-explicit material.
National attention has focused on sexting in recent years, especially when nude images of various celebrities surfaced online because their phones were supposedly hacked. Much of the attention has been very negative, viewing sexting as a moral, technological and sexual crisis, specifically when it involves the youth. However, there is a multitude of newsletters and magazines that would promote the practice of adult sexting, seen as pleasurable and beneficial to a relationship. The humor website, Cracked.com, even published an article last year titled, “7 tips for sexting someone you barely know” to teach adults, albeit satirically, how to sext properly.
To summarize: its first tip was, “make sure its cool first.” The person you are sexting needs to be a willing participant in the exchange, if not, its sexual harassment. Secondly, “adults only.” You can be charged with distribution of child pornograhy if you or your sexting partner is under 18 years of age. Thirdly, “relax.” If the exchange is legal and consensual, be comfortable with what you sext. Fourth, “speak the same language.” Acronyms won’t be sexy if your partner doesn’t know what they mean. Fifth, “don’t raise the stakes too fast.” If you go over the top, you risk killing the mood. Sixth, “don’t send photos.” You can never take them back. And finally seventh, “leave no evidence.” After you’re done, delete, delete, delete. The article also contained one long but funny sexting thread as an example to highlight each tip.
Although its main purpose was to be humorous, I found this Cracked.com article to be very educational and enlightening. Not once did it disapprove of the actual sexting practice. It just provided ways for individuals to engage with it in a mature and healthy manner. An approach that Amy Adele Hasinoff would approve of, given her article titled, “Sexting as Media Production.” In it, Hasinoff argues that it is crucial for lawyers, and parents to view sexting as primarily media production and as an unharmful act of pleasure and self-expression. The law should instead divert attention to the cruel distributors of private images instead of the producers.
I couldn’t agree more. It is impossible to stop the youth from sexting just as it is impossible to convince all of them that they should remain abstinent. Free smartphone applications, like “text free,” are also giving youngsters more ways to keep their sexting a secret from their parents (abc7news). So if we can’t stop them from sexting, a different approach is needed. Parents and educators will need to hold conversations with young people about online privacy and sexual discrimination and also instruct them on the proper ways of handling a consensual or non-consensual sexting exchange, just as the Cracked.com article above did for adults. Such an education would certainly lessen the negative emotional impact and/or disclosure of sexting in general.
Moreover, sexting is not as extreme as some research studies and news reports say it is. The “Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth Sexting: A National Study” of the Pediatrics Journal, conducted a study based on a telephone survey with 1,560 young internet users between the ages of 10 through 17. They found that only 2½ percent of that population had actually created nude or nearly nude photos or videos. Even less, 1 percent, if the images were restricted to private areas like breasts, genitals or bottoms. And only 7.1 percent admitted to receiving nude or nearly nude images from others. Conclusion? Sexting, whether it is creating or receiving, is not normative behavior for youth.
I, myself, as a 22 year old male have never created nor received a sext, much less know of anyone who has either. News reports tend to sensationalize such stories when an exchange of sexts encounter legal repercussions. Like Hasinoff suggested, radical change is necessary in our legal system and educational policies if we are to justly deal with new technology for self-expression.