Common Sense Media (a media watchdog group for and comprised of parents, from which I inexplicably receive emails about once a week) asks the title question in a recent newsletter, and THIS TEEN SAYS NO!
"Sexting"—a word which, by the way, I've never heard any real-life teenager use without a hefty dollop of irony—if you haven't heard about all this madness, is essentially "the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos electronically, primarily between cell phones," which I've lifted from Wikipedia's brief primer. Supposedly, one in five teens is doing it, and the recent rise in high-profile cases has sparked fascinating legal and moral debates. In Pennsylvania, six high school students face child pornography charges for their involvement.
The female students at Greensburg Salem High School in Greensburg, Pa., all 14- or 15-years-old, face charges of manufacturing, disseminating or possessing child pornography while the boys, who are 16 and 17, face charges of possession, according to WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh, which published the story on its Web site on Tuesday.So the girls are being punished for taking and passing on pictures of themselves, and the guys are being reprimanded for possessing photos purposefully shared with them within a consensual exchange?
Sounds like a fucking shame-based waste of time and resources.
And it certainly is, considering another case in which a student forwarded pictures of his ex-girlfriend to his friends without her knowledge. In other words, sexual assault. Isn't it more important to address this violation of boundaries than to tell girls to keep it covered? Sure seems like we've misplaced our "concern."
Cara points out that the real problem with sexting isn't that teens are taking sexual pictures of themselves and purposefully sending them to people with the consent of everyone involved. The problem is that people are forwarding those pictures to others without the consent of the photographed. And sadly, I'm not at all surprised that my peers are confused about what consent means.
Why? Because we've gotten so damn many opposing mandates about attraction and desire that our heads are spinning almost as fast as our hormones.
Young people are simultaneously not allowed to be sexual and pushed to conform to a hypersexualized, stereotypical idea of what it means to be desired. We're told that engaging in any sexual act sex is a dirty, dirrrty decision, despite the widely accepted fact that the vast majority of adults are doing it in some form or another. From there, we've got three basic paths to navigate—and I'll tell you right now that none of them end well:
a) If we don't have The Sex, we're prudes, geeks, goody-goodys. We're abnormal and utterly devoid of passion. We're the four-eyed nerd, not the bikini-sporting cheerleader. We're pathetic.
b) If we do but fail to use the right precautions—which is hardly surprising, given the ghastly prevalence of health curricula that 1) omit lessons on preventing pregnancy and STIs; 2) rely on blatantly sexist stereotypes and even flat-out lies about the purpose and efficacy of condoms and contraception; 3) fail to address the very real sexual health concerns of folks who are getting down with a partner of the same sex; and/or 4) skip right over the Sex chapter in the manual—we "should have known better."
c) If we do and use the right precautions WE GET SUSPENDED.What the fuck?
Conveniently, we are also shamed for sexual acts whether or not we consent to them, and this is especially true for young women. Think about it: If a girl is raped, she is often told that she was "asking for it" because she had the audacity to walk through the park alone/wear a short skirt/get drunk at a party (read: the audacity to live). And if she has the opposite experience, if she purposefully and insistently seeks sexual pleasure, then she is a laughable, desperate caricature. She's a slut.
There is shame literally everywhere we turn. So is it any wonder we're experimenting sexually through phones, in the dark, in secrecy, instead of out in the world? The media talk about sexting hastens to turn young women from keepers of our own sexual power into victim. Sure, texting pictures of yourself naked is a stupid choice in our media-saturated world where everything—everything—can and will come back to haunt you, but that's cause for reflection, not a criminal record.