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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » "Sexting" in the News

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Author Topic: "Sexting" in the News
Stephanie_1
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KDKA ran a headline in the news recently about Sexting. If you've never heard the term before, it's the use of cell phone text messaging to send nude or semi-nude pictures to others.

According to the news report, the National Campaign to Support Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy conducted a study - and results stated that roughly 20% of teens admit to sexting. So why is it so important that the word about this be spread? Because of the age it's considered child pornography - a felony. The students that have been charged are facing possible jail time.

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"Sometimes the majority only means that all the fools are on the same side" ~Anon

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CJT
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I think this is ap retty interesting issue, particularly as you look at how adults are treating it, and the sort of moral lens through which it is viewed.

I really liked the recent article that Slate ran about this, amusingly titled Textual Misconduct: What to do about teens and their dumb naked photos of themselves. It raises the issue of how, so often, all involved parties (the person sending, the person receiving, others who pass it on) are being charged, but that the creators of the pictures--usually girls and young women--are then charged with manufacturing child pornography and the recipients and forwarders, often boys, are charged with the somewhat lesser distribution.

Obviously neither is something you want, but I think it's interesting to talk about penalties, what messages they send, and what they might mean for you personally. Do you think it's fair that someone taking and sending a nude or semi-nude picture of themselves could be punished more harshly than someone who receives it and then passes it along?

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orca
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Wouldn't the easiest solution be for parents to disallow picture mail on their teens' cell phones?

I don't see why the girls who take pictures of themselves are being punished. Shouldn't they have a right to their own body to do with it as they please?

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Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.--Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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orca
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[Oops, double-post!]

[ 02-17-2009, 10:20 AM: Message edited by: orca ]

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Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.--Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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CJT
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Well, historically we have quite the track record of punishing people for doing what they want to do with their bodies. It's not as if this is anything new. If we could do whatever we want with our bodies, then there would be no rules or guidelines about age of consent for obtaining medical care or sex. Sex work would be legal. Reproductive rights would not be as contentious as they are. Transgender people would not be denied treatment or care. The list goes on and on.

Sexuality has so often been viewed as dangerous and as something that needs to be controlled.

Perhaps disallowing pix on a cell phone might mitigate a symptom, but it seems that no matter the technology, teens have always been creative and will always find ways to do what they want to do, no?

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PenguinBoy
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Applying these laws like this makes no sense to me.

Child porn is bad because children are seen as too young to objectively consent to photos being taken by adults, are coerced, are forced to pose and their pictures are distributed to paedophiles.

Would these minors be prosecuted if they never sent these pics? As sole producer and consumer of their own porn? To me that'd be just masturbatory and private... yet under these laws; criminal.

If they extended that experience and shared those pics with a same age partner who consents to receiving the pictures it could be more problematic because a level of coercion could be at play which would be a crime of sexual and emotional abuse.

If that person then passed on those pictures they'd be forcing the person who took those pics of themselves to be exposed naked to people they have not consented to be seen by. Like... just because you've seen you your partner naked, it wouldn't make it ok to strip them in public against their will. In that situation the crime committed would be by the distributer, obviously.

I think the ages and genders of the people in most of the cases I've heared are interesting:
quote:
Police in Greensburg, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, say the girls are 14 or 15 and the boys charged with receiving the photos are 16 or 17.
Reading an article Heather Linked to in her blog entry How Easy It Isn't... about the "Girls Gone Wild" boss, Joe Francis. I'm just reminded of how awful it is that girls feel a need to be validated by being photographed and that their sense of self is still defined by men, and whether that's being approved of pornographically or feeling one's level of success is only related to how good a husbands job is.

The fact that the only people making pics in that case are younger girls and the only ones receiving them are older guys seem to point to the influence of sexism.

Again though, I don't think age makes a difference there in how dangerous this is.

Exposure to such a way of thinking at such a young age is depressing to me though, also being aware that teens are yet to experience exposure to anything empowering them to want something more than an unbalanced one-way street.

I remember experimenting sexually as a very young post-toddler child with other kids. It was a valid part of me discovering my body, and other people's bodies... which wasn't really part of my life again until I was much older. But sexuality has always been a part of my life, even when young... which is wonderful, and did me no harm.

I feel that before the sexism and abuse comes into it, these could be sexual consensual acts which age has nothing to do with.

I'll say I've swapped sexy pictures with full consent as a sexual act, after learning what I believe and want in my relationships in terms of equality, positive pleasure all around, and protecting personal safety. That has meant these experiences haven't hurt anyone.

If these young people don't have that yet it's because it hasn't been shown to them or demonstrated to them by people they're around, yet the less positive messages are all to obviously out there and available.

I don't think suppressing all 'exposure to' and 'expression of' sexuality is the right response, because of how much harm they cause. Yet these punishments, for those making the pictures, seem to me to be one of many things doing just that.

[ 02-17-2009, 08:32 PM: Message edited by: PenguinBoy ]

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bluejumprope
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I liked a lot of the points in the Slate article, though the title and some of the tone bothered me. I certainly don't feel like the nude pictures and videos I took of myself or girlfriends took of me when I was a teenager were "dumb." They were beautiful and extremely important.

I also really didn't like Lithwick's line in the beginning of the piece, "Whether all this reflects a new child porn epidemic or just a new iteration of the old shortsighted teen narcissism epidemic remains unclear."

That sort of crap makes me so angry. As if teenagers don't get enough intense, conflicting messages about how to be sexual, then there's this mean-spirited, disrespectful pathologizing to top it off, just in case they had a shred of self-esteem left.

A question I have about the sexting phenomenon--which PenguinBoy hit on--is how consensual it is for the majority of teenagers doing it (forgetting about the third party sharing, but just between partners)--particularly for girls in relationships with boys. Do they feel empowered to make thoughtful decisions about "sexting?" Are they doing it for themselves more than for their boyfriends? What do they say the benefits of "sexting" are for them. I'd be very curious to hear from the young hetero women doing this.

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without tenderness, we are in hell. -Adrienne Rich

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Heather
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Here's also an article over at Salon which the writer asked for my input on. Since she only used a small quote from me, I'd be happy to share what my other thoughts were if anyone is curious.

http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2009/02/20/sexting_teens/index.html

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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bluejumprope
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I'd like to hear your thoughts about this, Heather

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without tenderness, we are in hell. -Adrienne Rich

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Heather
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Okie dokie. Here's are the questions the writer asked me and what my responses were:

Q: Where does sexting" -- or for that matter, taking nude self- portraits or videos that they may or may not share with a significant other, friends or a crush -- fall within teenage sexual development?

I'd lump television in with the 'net and other new media when I say that with the media presence being what it has become, the need or desire to seen -- already a typical part of young adult development -- has become huge. And that's not just about sex, but because sexual development and exploration is also a big part of being a teenager, as well as a part of life, period, and something that's still treated as provocative, particularly when in any way public, sex enters into this.

So, you're asking about teens using these kinds of media in terms of sex, but we could just as easily be talking about anything else. Teens tend to be creative and expressive, and teens often feel very invisible in many ways, so doing things to be more visible has always been typical. When it comes to sex, this is hardly the first time we've seen young people publicize their sexuality: before we had this media, we had video cameras, before that film cameras, before that the written word, and all throughout, public or semi-public sex, ways of proclaiming to peers that one is sexually active or available to become so. I'd say this is pretty normal behavior when it happens: teens just using the current media at hand to do the kinds of things young people exploring their sexuality and sexual identities have always done.

People forget that at the turn of the century, in the 20's, in the 50's and 60's, in the 80's and 90's... there has always been something like this, some way young people were expressing sexuality that adults were freaking out about, quick to proclaim as abnormal, and quick to state as something new that had never gone on before. Not hardly!

Mind, it may be becoming a little more pervasive, simply because a) the media we have is so much more accessible and easy to distribute than what we have had before b) it's a lot easier to get that 15 minutes of fame for the average Joe or Jane than it has been in the past, and c) the advent of porn available en masse, so easily, as it is now and has been for most of their lives is going to make all of this feel very unprovocative for some of them and very common.

Q: Can it be a healthy form of teenage sexual self-expression?

I'd say so, but I think when we're looking at whether or not something is healthy, it's important we look at the motivation.

In other words, is someone doing it to freely express themselves or share reciprocal (and I'd say that's important) levels of intimacy with a partner? Is it coming from a place, for them, that feels positive? Does it feel authentic, liberating? Is it a choice being made informedly when it comes to the risks? Are there some boundaries? If so, I'd say we're probably looking at healthy behavior.

Or, is someone doing it out of a need to prove something to someone else, to try and earn love or attention? Does it feel like an act or like it's required? Is it being done to try and gain social status or due to peer pressure? Out of a self-injury impulse, to try and do themselves harm or get into trouble? Is it happening in the context of anything exploitive or abusive? If so, I'd say we should consider this may not be healthy.

Q: Is it reasonable or fair to allow that some teenagers will have sex but not that they will engage in this type of sexual experimentation?

Oh, absolutely. Just like it's fair or reasonable to say that a young person who "dresses like" (whatever arbitrary thing that means at the time) she is sexually active or talks about sex (in general, not "I had sex last week,") should not be assumed to be having any kind of partnered sex.

Q: Nowadays, how does the Internet and other technology play a role in teenagers' sexual development?

It's tough to say if it's any more or less than other types of media have in the past, but I think we can say that in a media-saturated culture, this has an impact. For one thing, teens hear and see more and more messages about sex from more and more sources, which is not necessarily negative: that can be positive, negative or neutral, depending on what the messages are, how much meaning they have to a teen, and what kind of protective factors a given teen has to filter those messages through, like intelligence, community or family support and involvement, self-esteem, education.

Another thing to bear in mind is how many teens are having relationships which are only online recently, and so sometimes this IS the way they are having sex in those relationships: via photos, webcams, phone or cybersex. Again, while I know that these relationships have their own pitfalls, and adults have fears about them, I think we have to be careful about being too hasty to approach them with fear. After all, those kinds of sex don't present any risks of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, and may also involve more communication than in-person sex does.

I think we, as adults, often forget that teens today grew up with these tools: they're not new to them. This is the life they know.

Q: What are the main dangers of "sexting" and how should parents address concerns about that type of behavior?

Well, according to the legal definitions of child pornography, a photograph of a nude minor distributed WILL fall under that umbrella, leaving the teen who made it and distributed it and the others who look at it potentially open to very serious criminal charges. These recent cases are not the first time teens have been held responsible in this way.

Obviously, that's a huge danger all by itself, as child pornography is nothing close to a misdemeanor. Personally, when I have had teens ask me about this or talk about doing this -- when we're talking about photos or videos with any kind of nudity or overt sexual activity -- my own advice is that given the world that we live in -- both due to the legal ramifications, as well as the fact that we know this stuff can come back to haunt a person -- especially women -- far later in life than one'd expect (think Vanessa Williams, Dr. Laura), I advise against it, and suggest finding other ways, safer ways, less permanent ways, to express sexuality.

Another is the fact that many teens aren't so great about respecting privacy or understanding that intimacy is...well, intimate. In other words, Judy takes these photos and passes them to her boyfriend Joey. Joey thinks they are so hot and gets such an esteem-rush from Judy doing this for him that he sends them over to his friend, who thinks Judy is actually a big freak or a slut and so sends it to a handful of people, and the train has left the station and those photos can wind up in everyone's hands really fast. Too, the velocity of young adult relationship is such that be it with this or any other kind of sex or intimacy, some teens wind up exposing a whole lot very soon, well before they've established if the person they are doing it for or with is trustworthy. So, there is certainly a lot of room for serious betrayal or embarrassment, and something that felt good and liberating when done could really quickly turn into something that leaves the person who did it feeling very bad about themselves or their sexuality.

My advice to parents is pretty much the same no matter what kind of sexual behavior with teens we're talking about: ask questions, try and do so without issuing judgment, and just freaking listen. A parent can ask a teen, for instance, why this is something they're doing, and how they feel it benefits them. They can address the serious legal implications as well as the possible social issues to be sure a teen knows what the real deal is, and even make suggestions as to less risky ways to express sexuality or share intimacy with a partner. A parent can express their concerns and set limits and boundaries without going to a place that's about shaming sexuality or sexual expression, but rather, about helping a teen to make choices that don't derail their lives or put them at serious risk.

Parents might also do well to remember what ways they and/or their friends may have publicly or privately expressed their sexuality. [Smile]

Q; Is there any difference in the way this behavior potentially impacts girls as opposed to boys?

I'd say so, simply because we still live in a sexist world, and a lot of the archaic double-standards about sex and women still have yet to go away. A girl who does this stuff is still likely to be seen by many as a ho or a slut, a boy, a stud, and I'd say you're less likely to see guys doing this in the first place. When we do hear from teens about this who are engaging this, it seems it's much more often women than men, and much more often something women do for men than women do for female partners. I also more often hear young women expressing that this is asked for by male partners than I hear things the other way around.

Suffice it to say, there are more inherent dangers in a young woman appearing to be sexually available than there are for young men, both interpersonally and socially. The idea that a young woman is putting herself out there sexually -- especially for mass consumption, even if that wasn't her intent -- hasn't stopped carrying any of the same weight or heavy judgment than it has had in the past.

We still are not in the historical or cultural place where a woman can fully express her sexuality for herself, by herself, whatever that may look like, and have that be supported, as supported as it is for men.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About MeGet our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather
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Some counterpoint/context on this issue in the news today: http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/us_world/Her_teen_committed_suicide_over__sexting_.html

Obviously a worse-case scenario we shouldn't expect to happen for everyone, but it does bring up some sound points and issues, and this is terribly sad.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About MeGet our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Stephanie_1
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I don't understand how the school could offer only to have the girls delete the pictures and never speak to her again. I don't think I know of any schools that don't have a policy for harassment, and to boot most schools have a *zero tolerance policy* for harassment, which there's really no question that this is what was happening to her. Not to mention the ex-boyfriend that sent the photographs to others. This brings a whole new dynamic to breaking off a relationship, with a whole new set of worries.

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"Sometimes the majority only means that all the fools are on the same side" ~Anon

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Heather
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Some GREAT commentary on what's been going down with legal cases around "sexting" at the yes means Yes blog today:

quote:
Imagine the life of a 17-year-old girl with a felony conviction for distributing child pornography because she sent a nude photograph of herself to a teenage boy on her cell phone. If she’s middle-class and white she probably had college aspirations which are now gone, and she can’t work with or anywhere near children. You probably can’t get a job at a hospital. She probably can’t get a job with the church. Even secretary and receptionist positions in offices may be closed if they do a background check. She may not be able to live in her parent’s house if it is near a church, school or daycare center. She may not be able to find any place where she can live in her own community. If she’s not white and middle-class the picture is even more grim. For example, young blacks and latin@s already end up in the criminal justice system at wildly disproportionate rates. If she already has a felony conviction, the dispositions of criminal trouble otherwise available to her will not be. Arrests for minor fights or public intoxication or minor drug possession in many places are resolved with a plea to a noncriminal offense, or with what New York calls an “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal,” which makes the case go away if the defendant stays out of trouble for six months. The same woman, who might be offered those dispositions without a criminal record, will almost certainly face a worse plea offer, and possibly the charges could put her in jail on violation of parole or probation.

So basically, whatever this girl’s social position, we are talking about ruining her life. We are talking about consequences that will follow and limit her forever. In order to justify this as some sort of tough love measure, the consequences to her from circulating her picture would have to be dire indeed.

You can read the whole post here: http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2009/03/26/it-became-necessary-to-destroy-the-town-to-save-it/

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About MeGet our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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