Sexting — What’s the Scoop?

With so many technical platforms available today, social interaction with others has never been easier. Good or bad, sex is part of that socialization. Technology allows for easy taking and instant sending of pictures and videos now, so folks are no longer simply doing it via text, they are also including explicit visual material as well.

“Sexting” is a term that was invented in the early 2000s, a combination of the words sex and texting. Sexting means sending a sexually explicit message, text or image, by phone, email, or a social media website; in other words, virtual sex. The word itself wasn’t included in Merriam-Webster until August 2012, but many of us have heard it by now.

If an act is between two consenting adults, is it wrong? With sexting, the answer isn’t so much that it’s right or wrong, but the social risk that should be considered: will it remain private? In our high-tech world, there is limited ability to safely contain information; nearly anything can be copied, sent, or reposted in a flash. Knowing this, are you willing to risk that those boudoir photos you took (or worse) might end up on a digital bulletin board for everyone to see? Your parents? Your kids? Your boss!

For adults who think there’s nothing wrong with sexting, at least consider a couple rules or etiquette.

First, just as in face-to-face encounters, you need to be sure the adult you want to sext wants to be sexted. Some believe you should only sext with someone you’ve had physical sex with. Others don’t agree, believing that sexting is simply flirting, basically, virtual safe sex. Either way, that contact needs to be welcomed by the second party. Ask, don’t assume.

Second, don’t say something in your sext that you wouldn’t do in real life. It may be tempting to allow an alter ego to do wild and crazy things, but keeping it real is the best, and safest, way to enjoy sexting. Be imaginative when you fool around, not risky.

In Jessica Leshnoff’s article for AARP, “Sexting Not Just for Kids,” she covers sexting among the 50 and older crowd. “It’s about setting the stage for sex and keeping passion alive,” says Genie James, a relationship and sexual expert. But she also warns about the dangers, too, like sending a sext to a wrong number. Relationship expert Dr. Gilda Carle adds, “I think too much, too soon in relationships is not such a great thing,” when talking about big-talking sexters who oversell and overpromise.

What about teens and sexting? In an article posted by Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter in 2012, “Teens and Sexting: What Is It and What Can Parents Do?” they cover the comfort teens have with social media and living online, which includes documenting their lives in detail for all to see. They also point out the risks: “But this always on culture also creates an environment where teens can make impulsive decisions that can come back to haunt them.”

Parents will also find great advice in this article, from not waiting until an incident happens, to dealing with the peer pressure their kids may get to participate in sexting.

They also pass on some facts gleaned by surveys from CosmoGirl and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy on teens and sexting:

  • 22 percent of teen girls and 20 percent of teen boys have sent nude or seminude photos of themselves over the Internet or their phones.
  • 22 percent of teens admit that technology makes them personally more forward and aggressive.
  • 38 percent say exchanging sexy content makes dating or hooking up with others more likely.
  • 29 percent believe those exchanging sexy content are “expected” to date or hook up.

This sexting epidemic among teens should also prompt a close look at the potentially serious consequences of sexting when it comes to the law. According to Sherri Kuhn in her article, “Sexting laws: What parents need to know,” for SheKnows, sexting is common in the lives of today’s teens. But that doesn’t mean it’s legal across the board. State laws vary. It can even be a felony in some areas. Parents need to be aware of the potential liability, dangers and the devastation it can cause the family.

Kuhn’s bottom line is good advice, not just for teens, but for anyone who decides to sext. “In this new modern age where every last little email and image lives in cyberspace, we need to help our teens develop a digital footprint they can be proud of, not live in fear of.”

Wise words to end on.