Heather Corinna on the Dangers of Sexting
By Feature Editors
Claribel Baez, 15
Joi Kelley, 15
Lia Sims-Okundaye, 17
Mentor: Michelle Golden
Photo by Anh Ðào Kolbe for Teen Voices
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.
Teen Voices' teen editors spoke with Heather Corinna, former editor and founder of Scarlet Letters and Scarleteen, about why teens sext. Corinna is the author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know-Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College and a contributing writer and editor for the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves.
Teen Voices: Why do teens sext?
Heather Corinna: If we look at history, people have used whatever form of media we've had to express themselves in a sexual way. Now we have cell phones; before that we had webcams, movie cameras, Polaroid cameras, tape recorders, and so on. The motives have been the same all along.
TV: Is sexting a form of expressing sexuality?
HC: It can be...Whether or not it is depends on somebody's motivation and if they mean to express their sexuality. A concern about sexting is that some people are not expressing their own sexuality but are doing what other people expect them to in order to be "sexy," in order to conform.
TV: What are the social and emotional consequences of sexting?
HC: Socially, we need to deal with the legal consequences. In the U.S., when somebody is a minor, publishing an image of themselves naked and being sexual is profiled as child pornography. " I don't think teenagers are childrenBut from a legal standpoint, if you are under 18, you are a child. And if there's sexual material of someone who is a minor [on your phone], it is child pornography. That can be incredibly serious and can be a lifelong charge—potentially even hardcore jail time. " And with sexting, your sexual life is no longer private; it becomes public and can be public to five people just as easily as it can be public to 50 or 500 people. I probably don't have to tell you about the social ramifications; it is a typical assumption that if someone takes a naked image of themselves, they must be a certain kind of person. And all of a sudden, people make judgments. Emotionally, the impact depends on the outcomes.
TV: Is there a way to prevent teens from sexting?
HC:" Not everyone needs to have a picture phone. That's an easy solution. And I think more people need to have these kinds of conversations. People get stuck on the values-based part of this argument; no one mentions how people can use these images to harass youChanging the way people communicate to teenagers about sex can make a difference.
TV: At what age do you think teens start sexting?
HC: " My impression is that the more unaware you are of the consequences, the more likely you are to sext. " Studies show that younger kids are more likely to have unrealistic expectations about sexting and anything sexual. So it can be easier for a younger person with less information and an unstable handle on reality to sext without realizing the potential consequences.
TV: What should teens think about before they hit the send button?
HC: You have to think about the law. It's really tricky. It's hard sometimes to envision our lives far ahead of where we are. Sexting can not only result in charges, but it can also screw up what you have in a job and in relationships. High school can be hard enough. It's rough to have the whole high school in your business. Think about how easy it is to click that button, but remember that there is no way to un-press it.
TV: Do you think sexting leads to actual sex?
HC:" I don't see any demonstration that it does. In fact, you can make the argument that someone is just sexually expressing themselves and that it might be one way for people to feel like they're kind of having sex without actually having sex. I haven't seen anything showing that teens have sex earlier or have more sex because of sexting or cell phones.
TV: What should girls do if they feel pressured?
HC: Find someone and talk to them about it. This kind of sexual pressure is like any other kind of sexual pressure. People who pressure you for sex are not safe people to be around. They can tell you they care about you, that they love you, that you can trust them; but by pressuring you, they are demonstrating that even though they care about you, they care more about themselves and what they want. They're lacking maturity and they're not considering your best interests. They are not treating you with love.
TV: Is trust a major factor in making the decision whether to send your significant other an explicit text or image?
HC: It should be. Most people sexting think that they trust the person to whom they are sending. Most people who share something sexual about themselves share it with people they think they can trust. But trust is something that we have to build; we don't just automatically get it. We build trust over time, and this is a situation or environment in which people often "trust" a lot faster than is safe, especially with something that is so private.
Click to read the feature article Sexting Is not an LOL Matter.
Tagged as: Author interviews, Claribel Baez, Heather Corinna, Joi Kelley, Lia Sims-Okundaye, Michelle Golden, sexting