Tag Archives: sexting


Oh hey!

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.

in closing:

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.


Filed under In the news, Research


Hi kids!

In today’s post, and in Part 2, I shall be tackling the important and contemporary issue of teen-aged sexting. I’ve been prompted to do this by:

My plan *was* to compare the research, media coverage and government propaganda (‘educational resources’) on teen sexting, all the while mocking the latter two for looking nothing like the first one. However, as I worked on the post I was sucked deep into a terrible vortex of research FAIL from which it was difficult to extricate myself. I do apologise!

So anyhow, with only the flashlights of our intellects to illuminate the dark caves of misinformation, we are going to search, together, for the truth about how much sexting is going on; who is doing it; why they are doing it; and whether they then drop dead, instantly!  I’m going to cap it off with some nostalgic reminiscences at one end and a self-indulgent rant at the other. We’ve a lot to cover, and not a moment to spare!

that was then, this is now

I got my first mobile phone the same year I finished high school, in 2000. It was right around the time it was becoming common for school students to have mobiles. Of course, the phones in those days didn’t even have shitty cameras, so we had to let off steam having actual teen sex, rather than transmitting photographic representations of our nubile body parts. Oh, it was an innocent time!

Today, on the other hand, we have “Ke$ha“, and “new technologies” combining to produce the “alarming”  “trend” of a “surging” number of teens “falling into the ‘sexting’ trap“, even, *gasp*, “the girls you would least expect,” were you to be a teacher who goes around judging students’ sluttiness levels when you’re supposed to be writing lesson plans.

Everybody’s doing it, or something

Journalists can’t quite make up their minds how prevalent teen sexting is. On the one hand, alarming surges sell newspapers. But on the other hand, exceptionally dreadful  –  ideally, deadly – consequences sell newspapers. Since most teenagers we see out and about on the streets appear to be very much alive, the prevalence angle and the death-and-destruction angles sit uncomfortably, some might say contradictorily, alongside each other.

Anyhow, a few studies – none of them awesome, methodologically speaking – have tried to establish how common sexting is among teenagers. In the USA, a 2008 survey found that 20 per cent of teenagers (13 to 19 year olds) (by the way, in this context it’s freaking stupid to lump 13 year olds in with 19 year olds) had sent nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves. It’s impossible to say for sure, but this is probably an overestimate: the survey was done online with a self-selecting sample, so you’d expect kids who are tech-savvy and interested in the topic to be more likely to both sext and to take the survey.

More recently, an Australian survey was done as part of the Australian Parliament’s Joint Committee on Cyber-Safety inquiry into cyber-safety, which reported last month. This survey – also done online, and also with a largely self-selected sample – came up with quite different figures. Around one-fifth of 18 year olds (adults!) said they had sent sexts, but this dropped off dramatically at younger ages – closer to 5 per cent for 15, 16 and 17 year olds.

However, it’s here that things get rather curious. According to the same survey, more than 20 percent of FIVE YEAR OLDS answered ‘yes’ to ‘do you send nude or semi-nude pictures?’ which, WAIT, WHAT THE FUCK?

research mystery investigation tangent…

I stared at this page and re-read the surrounding text a good few times:

I mean WAT?! Obviously, four-fifths of five year olds (often the ones you wouldn’t expect?) are not sexting. But also, who the hell administers a survey – one with questions about sexting – to a five year old? Can five-year-olds understand these concepts? Can they even fucking read?

Intrigued by all these questions, and still sure my eyes and/or brain must be broken, I headed deep into the report’s bowels i.e. Appendix D – Survey Methodology. There I was able to confirm that yes, five-year olds filled out this survey, which was written “in partnership” with some unnamed and massively incompetent “external consultant”.

There I also discovered that while the report says that the respondents “answered that they would send nude or semi-nude photos” or “[identified] that they send nude or semi-nude photos to others”, that is not the question the young people were asked and answered. That’s a research no no, people! The actual survey question was:

What information about yourself is ok to put up on a webpage or over the internet that strangers might read?

Then there was a list of items, one of which was:

  • Nude or semi-nude photos to others via text message or email [Yes /No /I don’t know]

You don’t have to be a genius to notice that saying something “is okay” is fairly different to saying you have actually done it. But the Committee reported it that way, and so we find ourselves mired in total idiocy, even before any journalists have got their grubby little paws on it… (but they will!)

Boys and girls

According to researcher Nina Funnell, who is just about the only person in Australia who seems to have anything credible to say on the matter (and more on her in Part 2):

girls and boys are sexting to each other at approximately the same rate and male-to-male sexting in the gay community is widespread.

This is another thing these awful surveys have looked into. The general finding has that teen boys and girls are sexting themselves at nearly equal rates – girls are slightly ahead, but not by much. Of respondents to the American survey linked above, 22% of female teens reported have sent a sext of themselves, compared to 18% of male teens.

In the Australian survey we’ve been looking at, the difference was similar among 18 year olds: 22.8 per cent of female respondents and 17.3 per cent of males said they’d sent nude or semi-nude pictures. (Or maybe they would have, if they had been asked, but, Moving Right Along!). Interestingly, for 17, 16, 15 and 14 year olds, boys were actually answering ‘yes’ at around two or three times the rate that girls were. Not only that, for every age group except for five, six and 18 year olds, a higher percentage of males than females answered yes. This may be partly a result of the ambiguous wording of the question, which doesn’t make it clear whether they are asking about photos of oneself or of another.

Anyhow, now we will look at what happened to those results once journalists became involved. Reporting on the very same survey results, the Courier-Mail in Queensland led with this headline and opening sentence:

Report suggests cyber-safety education should start at kindergarten after a fifth of teen girls admit to ‘sexting’

One in five Australian girls aged 18 has sent nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves over the internet, according to a new Federal Government study.

Apart from being wrong in myriad other ways, this completely distorts the findings of  the already-shoddy survey by suggesting that sexting is something done mainly by teenage girls.

And it’s not just this article, or this survey. I read nearly two dozen news articles on teenage sexting. The anecdotes they include almost universally feature a female sexter and a male recipient, and if the article is illustrated, it’s with a girl. Taken all together, the media is very much pushing the impression that it’s overwhelmingly girls who are making sexts.

That’s also the impression given off by educational resources, which also tend to go with the girl-pressured-by-boy-into-sending-sexts narrative. This NSW Education Department fact sheet ‘Safe Sexting: No Such Thing‘ suggests that girls are ‘most at risk’. And seriously, watch this terrible film, “Photograph”, which has been promoted by the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development:

In case the subtleties of this eluded you, there’s another film that breaks it down:

Well, I think that’s quite enough for now, don’t you? Next up, in Part Two, we will, among other things, delve deep into the strange teen psyche in an attempt to discern just how much of this whole thing can be blamed on Rihanna.


Filed under In the news, Research