Since we’ve had more than a fortnight to assimilate the revelations contained in Part 1, I think it’s high time that we resume our investigation of teen sexting! Before we go on, and because it’s been a while, a brief recap of what we discovered in Part 1:
- nobody quite knows how prevalent teen sexting is, mainly because complete morons have been in charge of all the surveys. We can make an educated guess, however, that it’s somewhat more common than teen double-penetration threesomes but somewhat less common than teen masturbation.
- even though the media is hysterically concerned about anybody looking at photos of semi-naked teen girls unless they do so in the process of reading an article in the newspaper that is illustrated with a photo of a semi-naked teen girl, it actually appears that both boys and girls are making and sending sexts at approximately equal rates.
So Part 1 cleared up some of the most pressing questions, but we want to go deeper, don’t we? Let’s, because the whole thing is just a wee bit titillating! Tonight, in Part 2, we’re going to peer into the minds of the youth, trying to establish why on earth they would do such a dirty thing. After that we’ll sort through the rubble of the post-sexting landscape, searching for signs of life.
ignorance + pressure = sext!
Why send a digital image of your cock to another person? Perhaps you have a beautiful cock that you are quite proud of, and you think it would be fun to show it off? Perhaps some girl you know asked nicely? Personally, I think both of those would be perfectly good reasons to sext someone. In fact, you should probably e-mail me a picture of your cock, now-ish, should you own one.
Cocks, yes, but we’re getting off-topic. Why would a teenager send a sext? Apparently, they do it because, when it comes to technology, they are real know-nothings! The Victorian Privacy Commissioner, Helen Versey, quoted in one article, claims that ‘‘children are confiding and communicating with their friends online and don’t realise the potential for that information to be picked up by others.’’ Educational experts in another opine that teens incorrectly perceive online space as private; a Detective Senior Sargeant in a third says teens just aren’t getting the message that photos can be distributed. And on and on. They need, clearly, to be educated.
Educators agree. “More and more young people seem to be distributing highly suggestive or even sexually explicit photos of themselves,” warns the NSW Education Department’s Safe Sexting: No such thing factsheet, “often without a real understanding of the consequences.” It goes on to suggest that as well as monitoring phones and Facebook accounts, parents should warn their children about “the consequences of sexting.”
Far be it from me to deny that teenagers are, on the whole, stupid and ignorant. Still, it strikes me as funny that today’s youth, who’ve been suckling at the internet teat their entire lives, are so often presumed not to understand that digital images can be easily transmitted and are difficult to erase once in circulation. In fact, in the American TRU survey, three quarters of teens 13-19 said they thought that sending ‘sexually suggestive content’ could have ‘seriously negative consequences’. I guess the ignorance assumption persists in the face of the facts because it’s a comforting thought for scared adults: if the problem is that teens don’t know stuff, all you have to do is tell it to them and voilà, behaviour change!
Next, into the fertile ground of the ignorant teen mind are deposited the evil seeds of pop culture. According to the article in The Age that initially set me off:
Experts believe sexting is a product of our highly sexualised celebrity culture, in which young women are encouraged to be sexually rapacious.
Maybe, if by ‘rapacious’ you mean ‘hot’. Specific celebrities singled out for blame for ‘sexualising’ presumably-otherwise-asexual-teens include Ke$ha (take a dirty picture for me, take a dirty picture), Rihanna (feels so good being bad oh oh oh oh oh), Kim Kardashian with that ass of hers, and Vanessa Hugdens of High School Musical, who doesn’t look this wholesome everywhere you find her on the internet:
Finally, forming an unholy alliance of pressure with said starlets, enter the teenage boy. Good-for-nothing, deranged with hormones, lacking both ethics and genuine affection, he cajoles the girl – weak, naïve, absent any sexual desire of her own – to do the deed. If the journalist or education deparment bureaucrat feels like laying it on real thick, our leading man will even plead you would if you loved me, like the dolt in Part 1’s film.
fun, fun, fun, fun!
But akshully, when sexting teenagers are, you know, asked why they sext, they say something a little different. In the TRU survey, the most common reason both boys and girls gave for sexting was to be ‘fun or flirtatious’ (around two-thirds). Other common reasons were to give ‘a sexy present’, as ‘a joke’ and ‘to feel sexy’. Lots of teens in the survey thought that other people sext because they’re pressured to, but when sexters themselves were asked about their own reasons for doing it, only 12% of teen girls and a similar proportion of boys said they’d felt pressured.
Similarly, researcher Nina Funnell makes the insightful observation that “if there was nothing pleasurable about it ever, nobody would be doing it.” As reported in an anomalously decent article in the Daily Telegraph, Funnel has spoken with hundreds of teenagers about sexting, and they’ve told her it’s about flirtation, pleasure and exploration. Fascinatingly, some young men and women told Nina that they see sexting as a way of experimenting with sex while exercising control (choosing angles, lighting etc), and without risking pregnancy or STIs. The research has also found that that teenagers “place a fundamentally different value on privacy and what it means to be seen naked.” They just don’t think it’s quite such a big deal.
But of course, teenagers don’t even have fully developed and ossified brains, so what would they know? In fact, naked pictures are a Very Big Deal, and have the following consequences:
- circulation beyond the intended recipient: “and boys being boys, the first thing they do is share it with their mates”
- viral distribution: “they can be across the world within seconds” “go to… 1 million people”
- embarrassment: “social humiliation” & “social rejection”
- bullying: “being bullied and harrassed at school” “these images are then used as weapons against them”
- images can’t be erased: “Anything on the internet has a footprint that can be there forever and a day”
- discrimination from employers & universities: “employers might be… making fundamental employment decisions on the basis of what they see”
- familial disapproval
- romantic rejection
- supplying photos to pedophiles: “supply to a market amongst sex offenders who are trawling the internet for sexualised images of children for their sexual gratification”
- charged with creating/distributing child pornography: “from a legal perspective they are producing and disseminating child pornography” & “you could end up on the sex offenders’ list and be branded a paedophile”
- emotional distress: “years of anguish” “poor self esteem and self-image” “it ruins your life” “grim consequences”
- suicide: “18 year old Jessica Logan hanged herself after weeks of ridicule at school”
All of these are presented by media and government alike as sitting somewhere on a scale from Highly Likely to Inevitable. But all the evidence is anecdotal, so it’s entirely possible that only a very small fraction of teen sexting incidents end with hanging oneself. It’s entirely possible, too, that a lot of teens send sexts to their boyfriends and girlfriends and nothing really happens at all beyond a mastubatory session or three. Curiously though, none of the surveys which deal with teens’ sexting habits ask for their perceptions of the actual consequences (bad, and certainly not good) that their sexting had, so we just can’t say.
One of the things I remember from my all-too-distant teens is the way everyone was always rambling on about self-esteem this and believe-in-yourself that. You couldn’t go a day without some authority figure reminding you to follow your dreams, to be yourself, to resist peer-pressure and on and on, ad fucking nauseum.
But when it comes to sexuality – unless you’re saying no to it – no-one seems to be spouting the saccharine self-belief line to teenagers. Being slut-shamed? You’re on your own, baby! Probably should have thought of that before you went around being all sexual, like a biological human or something!
What gets my goat most of all in the teen sexting discussion is the way that all these awful sexting consequences are rattled off without any ethical context to counter to the harmful, sex-negative assumptions they are all rooted in. The only – really, only! – reason that a circulated sext can be used as fodder for harassment or discrimination is because sexuality and sexual expression are falsely seen as reflecting (negatively) on a person’s human worth and moral character. Yet the judgement and discrimination that could - could – be prompted by sexting is presented by educators and authorities as a natural and inevitable consequence, rather than an injustice to be fought.
The most obvious example is bullying. Teens already know that there’s a chance any sext they send could be circulated, and if they live in an environment where bullying based on sexual shame is likely to occur, they’re probably aware of that too. They don’t need to be told that they might get ridiculed if a photo gets out, they need to be told that IT’S BULLSHIT. They need to be told that if anyone tries to harass or insult them for being sexual, they would be in the right to look that person right in the eye and tell them to FUCK RIGHT OFF and brush up on their logic.
And what of the claim that naked photographs could affect future employment and university entrance? This rests, I think, on fairly shaky factual ground, but that aside, why do none of the people trumpeting these dire consequences ever mention that such discrimination would be illogical and utterly unjust? Or that it could be fought?
It’s so blindingly obvious that it shouldn’t need stating, but possession of a body and a sexuality has zero bearing on a person’s capacity to do 99.9 per cent of jobs, or to study successfully. Nor does having taken a photograph of that body. There are dozens of naked shots of me on assorted hard drives and in the web-tubes, and I will cut the bitch who suggests that this somehow affects my ability to sit at a desk eight hours a day exchanging use of my brain for cash. (In fact, you know, that spring in my step? That cheerful energy in the office? That’s from the kinky shit I did last night!)
Not *even* to mention that anyone who won’t date you because you once took a naked picture of yourself is sanctimonious and messed-up, and most likely a dud lay to boot. You’re better off without them! And that, my friends, is what I’ll be telling the kiddies in my sex ed class of the future.