All parents and all teachers warn children against the dangers of sexting. The admonitions are as pervasive as the practice. At the least, this suggests that children do not pay very much attention to what adults are telling them.
Ask yourself this: is anyone encouraging children (i.e. high school and junior high school students) to send photos of their private parts to their friends? Has anyone told these children that what they are doing is a good thing? Has anyone told them that it’s a normal part of exploring your sexuality?
In truth, some people have condoning, even encouraging sexting. Among them is radical feminist firebrand, Amanda Marcotte:
It's time for a nationwide reckoning on sexting. It's clearly not a temporary fad but, like oral sex and Rule 34, a permanent part of modern American sexuality. We need to move onto the second phase, which should involve educating people—especially young people—on how to sext responsibly. While some risk reduction should be taught (only sext with people you trust, consider keeping your face out of pictures), the bulk of this education should be focused on respect and consent.
Marcotte and her ilk are at war against shame. They favor sexual liberation and they believe that hiding your sexuality from public view constitutes repression.
If you want to practice the highest degree of shamelessness you should put your private parts online. Of course, you run the risk of having your boyfriend share the images with his closest friends… perhaps with the school… but that would be entirely his fault.
The teenage girl is simply exploring her sexuality, and perhaps even preparing for a career in sex work. The boy is a monster.
Marcotte wants girls to be taught “risk reduction.” She believes that boys should be taught how to keep secrets.
But, how can she promote the value of discretion while she is countenancing indiscretion?
When did radical feminists come to believe that boys can or should be trusted? How can Marcotte counsel young women to trust members of a gender that she and her cohorts have been excoriating as moral swine for the past few decades?
If a woman’s sexts are exposed in public by a perfidious male, ought she to believe that she is not responsible? Is that the feminist consolation prize?
Does it make any sense from a feminist perspective to declare that women are not responsible for how they choose to live their sexuality?
Take another example: imagine that a couple has an intimate relationship. Imagine that the female member of the couple decides to write a graphic memoir about their more private moments.
If all is fair in love and publishing, if a woman has a right to betray intimacy in order to get a book contract, why would a man not have a right to share pictures of the private parts of his beloved?
Somehow or other, Marcotte has gotten it into her mind that the royal road to a fulfilling sex life is to be as open and honest and shameless about one’s sexuality.
Perhaps she is dumb enough to believe this, but intimacy exposed in public is no longer really intimacy. Every parent and every individual who cares about the moral character of children knows this.
Some women exhibit their sexuality in public. Some of them have satisfying sexual relations. How many of them get involved in satisfying long term relationships?
For most women, being involved in a committed relationship is the sine qua non of the best sex.
Marcotte is telling young girls that sharing pictures of their private parts with a boy they love (today) is a natural and normal part of growing up.
This means that Marcotte’s feminist derangement syndrome has caused her to countenance destructive behavior. If she had been a raving misogynist, trying her best to find a way to hurt pubescent females, she could not have done very much better.
To put it all in perspective, we turn to a new report from Indiana University—home to the Kinsey Institute, a leader in research about human sexuality. The report involves college students, young adults who are presumably capable of exercising moral reasoning. That is to say, people who would likely be less vulnerable than pubescent teenagers.
The Washington Post reports the alarming results:
Parents and educators expend a lot of energy trying to stop kids from sending each other nude photos of themselves. They run workshops on “digital citizenship.” They preach, frequently, about online reputation and good judgment and the long-forgotten value of “self-respect.”
But they might be missing the real, and really dangerous, sexting scandal — the one that few people, besides kids themselves, see. According to new research from Indiana University, as many as one in five sexters are actually coerced into sending sexual texts by threats or manipulation from their partner. The practice is so widespread among young people — and so deeply traumatic — that the developmental psychologist Michelle Drouin thinks it constitutes a new form of intimate partner violence.
“I think it is a surprising finding,” Drouin said. “Coercion into sexting caused more trauma, for both men and women … than coercion into actual physical sex.”
Let’s repeat that quote again, because it’s a pretty alarming conclusion:
“Coercion into sexting caused more trauma, for both men and women … than coercion into actual physical sex.”
It is notable that, according to the study, boys are as likely to sext as girls. Some boys even feel coerced into sending the pictures. Think Anthony Weiner. And yet, most boys seem to be less concerned about these pictures being passed around by a group of girls. I may be naive but I suspect that it is more common for a team of boys to ogle an image of a naked girl than it is for a team of girls to ogle the image of a naked boy.
After all, most consumers of pornography are male.
Of course, Marcotte does not and would never accept coercion as a motive for sexting. And yet, when a boy tries to coerce or bully or even persuade a girl to send him a few nude pictures, he might very well argue that everyone is doing it and that it is a normal and accepted part of modern sexual experience.
How pervasive would the practice of coercing girls to sext be if everyone believed that sexting was a bad thing, to be avoided, to the point of not even being subject to consideration?
The Indiana University study discovered that 71% of the students had sexted recently, which suggests that the practice is as pervasive as Marcotte believes. And yet, twenty percent of those say they had been coerced into doing it.
For those who had been coerced, the mental health consequences were severe. Describing the psychological trauma that this produces, the Post reports:
More surprisingly, when Drouin ran the numbers on the rates of anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms among her respondents, she found that victims of “sexting coercion,” male and female, were more traumatized than people whose partners had coerced them into actual, physical sex.
For female victims, sexting coercion was more traumatic even than “traditional forms of partner aggression,” like verbal abuse and physical violence. That toll makes sense to Cindy Southworth, the executive vice president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, who points out that a nude picture lives in eternity — it’s an artifact of trauma, and an object of blackmail, that never goes away.
Why were those who were coerced into sexting more traumatized than women who had been sexually assaulted?
Southworth is clearly correct here. Once the images are in the public domain they represent a permanent threat to one’s dignity and self-respect. They cannot as easily be forgotten or dismissed.
Individuals whose private parts have become public property suffer an assault on their dignity and their sense of shame.
But, if this applies to those who were coerced into sexting, why would it not also apply, to a lesser extent, to those who sexted voluntarily and who broke up with their boyfriends? Surely, a number of girls and young women have sexted voluntarily, only to have found their confidence betrayed.
The researchers are especially concerned that sexting is now considered to be normal. Once people believe that sexting is normal and healthy it becomes that much easier to coerce people into doing it:
Both researchers like Drouin and advocates like Southworth worry that it normalizes abusive behavior — it tells other kids, essentially, that they won’t be punished if they bully their boyfriends or girlfriends into taking nude photos. Everybody does it, right?
“Because sexting is common among youth and young adults today, individuals may believe that sexting coercion is normal and even harmless,” Drouin’s paper concludes. And that, frighteningly, could not be further from the truth.
Of course, there are degrees of coercion. When a boy can tell a girl that she should send a picture of her private parts because if she does not do it she is abnormal, is not a good feminist or is ashamed of her body, the coercion might very well feel more like persuasion.