FYI: Sexting Is not an LOL Matter
By Feature Editors
Claribel Baez, 15
Joi Kelley, 15
Lia Sims-Okundaye, 17
Mentor: Michelle Golden
Photo by Anh Ðào Kolbe for Teen Voices
When you turn around, what do you see? We bet you see a teenager texting. A lot of teens use their phones to text rather than to talk. With all this texting going on, you can never be too sure of what is being sent from one phone to another. When teens meet someone of interest, they usually start off texting." As they get more engaged in their relationship as a young couple, they develop trust in one another. This trust can often lead to the exchange of "explicit" images and messages. Too often, these messages and images get forwarded through email and/or posted on social networking websites like Facebook, where recipients unintended by the sender can have access to them.
According to the Mass.gov website, "Sexting is the" act of sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photos, or images via cell phone, computer, or other digital devices." Teens may not be aware of it, but sending explicit images to someone else is illegal. "
A survey conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy revealed that 21 percent of teen girls and 18 percent of teen boys have sent/ posted nude or semi-nude images of themselves. In an editorial called "Keeping an Eye on 'Sexting,'" the Los Angeles Times warns that teens who sext could be making permanent "cyber tattoos" for themselves. In other words, these images may stay with them for a lifetime.
Why teens sext
So why do teens sext? There are various reasons. It may be because of pressure from friends or a significant other. Some teens may want to make an impression on a potential love interest. Some teens do it because of low self-esteem and a desire to be flirty. Relationship expert and author Dr. Logan Levkoff says, "Sexuality is really important during adolescence. It's really normal to want to express your sexuality and technology has just made it really convenient."
Teens may be curious and want to feel desired by a significant other. They may want to seek pleasure and intimacy and not know how to express themselves any differently. "There's also still this competition"“this unfortunate competition"“among girls and women to get a particular guy," says Levkoff. "Girls want to get the guy and be [seen as] more attractive than someone else."
Despite its negative consequences, many teens choose to sext. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 75 percent of teens surveyed believe that sending suggestive content can have negative consequences, but 39 percent do it anyway!" It can be easy to forget that in today's digital world, nothing is guaranteed to stay private.
Think before you hit send!
There's a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. Which way should you go? If your boyfriend or girlfriend wants you to send a message that makes you uncomfortable, then don't hit send! Always go with your gut feeling and never do anything you don't feel comfortable doing. " Levkoff says that sexting should be a personal choice based on trust in your relationship and partner. "It's really important to evaluate the relationship or the friendship. Think about the outcomes and weigh potential positives and negatives. Think, 'What kind of person would want me to do this? Am I willing to put this much trust in another person?" Am I sure that they won't violate my trust—now or anytime in the future?'"
The social/emotional consequences of sexting
On March 6, 2009, the Today show featured a story about Jessica Logan, an 18-year-old who committed suicide because she was bullied by her peers for a sexually explicit image that she thought she had sent privately to her boyfriend. After he forwarded it to other girls in the school, she was constantly called names like "slut." Jessica hanged herself in her bedroom because she felt so humiliated and betrayed. While this is an extreme story, it is important to realize how sexting can lead from one thing to another and negatively affect a teen girl.
Before you send a sexually explicit text, think about what it could do to your future. You're a great student in school, you get good grades, and you're on your way to college. If you get caught with explicit material on your phone, any college scholarship or job offer could be taken away. Think long range. All those things could go down the drain. " Before sending, consider: What would happen if an image you sent to someone privately on your phone was put online?
Some people think that sexting is child pornography. In an ongoing debate, authorities in various states are trying to figure out how to charge teens who are caught with explicit material on their phones. Different states have different laws.
According to Your Houston News, in Texas, sexting could be considered a misdemeanor (minor) offense. The punishments include probation and limited cell phone usage. In Pennsylvania, sexting can result in charges of manufacturing, disseminating, and/or possessing child pornography, a more serious charge. In New York, if a teen is caught sexting, s/he is required to register as a sex offender until the age of 43.
Although there are many legal and emotional consequences when it comes to sexting, ultimately whether or not to sext is your personal decision. What are the limits in your relationship? Is this act something you might look back on and regret? As teen girls, we need to make wise decisions about how we behave in relationships. Remember that if you send a suggestive image or message, with the click of a button, it could end up being forwarded to someone else. So think before you send!
Did You Know?
Based on the results of its survey, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy reminds us:
Nothing online is really private. Forty percent of teens have had a sexually explicit message shown to them, which was meant to be private. Twenty percent admit to sharing such a message with a third party.
Anything you send will never actually go away. Potential employees, colleagues, college recruiters, future bosses and in-laws, as well as your parents, friends, teachers, and coaches may be able to see everything you post. An image you send to a significant other could be posted online without your knowing. Even if you have deleted an image you sent to someone else from your phone, the recipient may have decided to keep it and send it to others." In 20 or 30 years, when you are an adult—a job applicant, a mother, and/or a community member—do you really want naked images of yourself available for viewing by anyone?
Just say no. Forty-seven percent of teen girls say that they feel pressure from guys to send sexually suggestive messages and images. But remember you don't have to—it is a choice!
Nothing is anonymous." One in five young adults send sexually suggestive messages and images to people they only know online. But remember that in this day and age, even if you text someone who has access only to your email address or phone number, that person can easily find out more about you. Eventually, the content may reach someone else you associate with on a daily basis.
For More Information
Stay Teen: http://stayteen.org/
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy: http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/
Scarleteen Sex Ed for the Real World: http://www.scarleteen.com/
Read Teen Voices interview with Heather Corinna, author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know-Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College
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