It can be as subtle as a reference to computer hardware, or as striking as a full-on nude photo. Sexting occurs via texting, photos, and video, and its instance shows no signs of letting up—whether people like it or not.
As I wrote up the draft for this blog in Microsoft Word, I was barely surprised when every instance of ‘sexting’ had that familiar squiggly red line under it, prompting me to correct my spelling. Mind you, I have the 2007 edition of Word; sexting was only added to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary in 2012.
Most Westernized people have at least heard the term sexting before, but the general consensus on this racy phenomenon is less clear.
GIVE IT TO ME STRAIGHT, DOCTOR
In fact, a 2008 online survey conducted jointly by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl showed that 20% of teens aged 13-19 have submitted nude or semi-nude images of themselves online or over a mobile phone. Among a slightly older demographic between the ages of 20-26, that percentage only increases to 33%. The population under study was 1,280 strong, including 653 teens and 627 young adults.
Explicit text messages are even more prevalent than images. The same study concluded that 39% of teens and 59% of young adults have sent or are sending suggestive texts. Interestingly, the instance of sext receivers is greater than those who send them out into cyberspace. 48% of teens and 64% of young adults receive sexts.
Comparing the percentages over giving and receiving textually suggestive messages for both demographics, one can see that there is a higher frequency of giving sexts over receiving them in both teens and young adults. This correlates with the idea that people are offering up sexy content in the hopes of hooking up or pleasing a long-term partner, and that sexting is often times a one-way form of communication. But this not always true; from the study mentioned above, 40% of teens and young adults say they have been shown a sext that was not originally meant for them. 20% have shared a sext against its originally private nature.
This is where problems can arise.
‘ENTER’ IS FOREVER
Copy and Paste are a deadly one-two punch. Back in your high school days, you may have posted that revealing image exposing your cleavage to a social media site in the hopes to gain some much-desired attention from your peers (if you posses the necessary lady parts, that is). But you grew up (so to speak), and have since deleted the embarrassing photo. It may be out of sight on your profile and therefore out of mind, but how many other people took advantage of CNTRL+C and CNTRL+V before you SHIFT + DELETEed? Sorry; comb the online help forums all you like, but there are no keyboard shortcuts to clean up that mess once it exists.
And this example has consequences that sometimes surprise people. After all, it’s all in good fun, isn’t it? What is one skanky little photo going to do to hurt someone?
End their life, apparently.
THE EXAMPLES OF PARSONS AND POTT—SEXTING GONE VERY, VERY WRONG
The ramifications of sexting have a great dependence on their context. Who said the subject(s) of sexts had to be intent on their creation and distribution? Audrey Pott, age 15 and Rehtaeh Parsons, also age 15 took their own lives as the result of individual cases of sexting gone horribly wrong.
After a sleepover that involved significant levels of alcohol consumption, Potts was left to piece together the events that led up to her sexual assault that same night. After combing over social media in attempts to reach the truth, it came to her at school later that week in the form of a mass-distributed sext that she did not give the consent to be created.
The case of Parsons is strikingly similar to Potts. Alcohol was consumed, she wound up in a regrettable position, and—snap!—the photo was taken that would be dispersed and consequently ruin her life in the worst way imaginable.
These are just two very recent cases of sexting without a happy ending. There are more cases out there, and in all cases grim endings are met not only by victims. Sexual battery charges, child pornography distribution charges, sex offender registration… need I go on? These are the fates that can befall the perpetrators of foul sexting activities.
So what does the Law say about this subculture of cyber bullying?
LAYING DOWN THE LAW
In a recent article by the Sunday Morning Herald, the difference between sexting and pornography was briefly explored. Current handheld technology is outpacing the cyber bullying and pornography laws officials have to work with when charging perpetrators, particularly in the United States. The result: teenage registered sex offenders. Some legislative action has been taken in some states to ease up on the punishment for minors caught sexting.
In Canada, the Supreme Court excluded from the Child Pornography Provision the instances of “self-created expressive material” and “private recordings of lawful sexual activity.” Curiously, the word sexting itself does not appear once in the Criminal Code of Canada, as a simple search of the word on the Justice Laws Website reveals. McGill University website Define The Line attempts to clarify things for us, only to come to the conclusion that the Law as it currently stands on the matter is “arguably unclear.”
What is clear, however, is that charging minors with Distributing Child Pornography is not what Canadian Law intends to do with most sexting cases. The Law—and its subsequent sentences—are intended to severely punish adults, not teens. Nevertheless, sending nude photos of persons under 18 years of age is still considered a criminal offence, no matter what age you are. Sext at your own risk, it seems.
BUT IS IT ALL BAD?
The short answer is… no. For the right persons, sexting can have benefits when the proper precautions are taken. Sound familiar? (wink wink, nudge nudge)
When done between two trusting partners, sexting can be a great way to build upon a growing relationship. Maybe a spontaneous, dirty-talking text from one’s significant other is just what one needed to keep alert through the remainder of another long lecture. Can’t be together before a date? What better way to build up a little positive sexual tension before the big night than some sly textual bantering? Or maybe long distances have forced two lovers apart, and a racy image is all that is needed to rekindle a flickering flame. When done the right way for the right reasons, sexting is no different from how sexual humans interact with each other in person.
It is up to one’s own discretion to determine if a receiving partner is trustworthy with suggestive material.
- Will they promise to abide by your restrictions?
- What about the possibility of a break up? Once you send it, it’s in their hands to do whatever they please, which could be against your original wishes.
- Communication is critical towards laying out the “ground rules” for such activities; who is allowed to see and who the material can be shared with are all aspects that should be covered if sexting is something partners wish to enjoy.
A person’s age is another factor to consider that was discussed in the above section. Minors must be aware that if their material goes outside of their control (unintentionally or otherwise), they could be in danger of criminal charges if caught.
Furthermore, one’s own set of morals—possibly influenced by a religion—should also be taken into consideration, as well as one’s ability to handle the potential consequences of sexting gone awry. While sexting can be pleasurable, it can also get out of hand quickly.
What do I make of this mainstream type of media messaging?
Well, I’d be outright lying if I said I haven’t sent a sext or ten of my own. But I am not a minor, and I have discussed the matter with my significant other. We are both aware of the consequences, and I have outlined my expectations for him. From there, it’s simply a matter of trust and honoring our agreement. And fun, of course! If there wasn’t some sort of enjoyment factor involved, I wouldn’t be representing that 39% of teens aforementioned. If the numbers hold true, that is. Sexting is still an emerging concept in today’s rapidly evolving technological world, and the numbers are probably fluctuating just as much as the rate of current technological innovation.
But who knows? If things ever do go south in my own relationship, maybe I’ll be eating my words one day when I am informed my panty-clad bottom has appeared on the latest /b/ thread of 4chan*. Touché, Internet.
* DISCLAIMER: this link may contain material that is offensive to some viewers. Follow at your own risk!