Teen ‘sexting’ – The real issues with naked selfies

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The Punch
Segments published on The Punch

(updated)

Cyber-bullying is well established in public discourse, yet we rarely acknowledge the link between sexual communication (sexting) and sexual bullying.

The term ‘sexting’ (nudes or naked selfies as they are actually called, by teens) represents a range of activities. These may be motivated by sexual pleasure, but are often coercive, and linked to harassment, bullying, wider sexual pressures to perform, even violence.

Despite the media hype surrounding ‘sexting’ laws and the panic about pedophiles, a qualitative study of young people and ‘sexting’ indicates that the primary technology-related threat is not ‘stranger danger’, but technology-mediated sexual pressure from peers. And it is a genuine risk – A 2012 study found that ‘Sexting, rather than functioning as an alternative to ‘real world’ sexual risk behavior, appears to be part of a cluster of risky sexual behaviours among adolescents.’

Yet, there is still an opinion that sending ‘nudes’, from behind the safety of a screen, allows young girls to express their sexuality. It apparently keeps a girl safe from groping or rape, because she cannot be physically ‘reached’, while in the privacy of her bedroom. How myopic!

The costs are real and destructive.

Kids Helpline recently stated that, ‘In a three-month period, around 500 counselling sessions were offered to kids who called with sexting-related concerns’.

Given how many girls I have personally counselled, I am not surprised. The inevitable teenage break up inflicts the sudden realization that an ex possesses one’s naked image on his phone. (Hell hath no fury and all that…) 

Hence, the once consensual photo leads to a psychological torture, when the sender begins to wonder whether her naked ‘selfie’ is currently parading around the simulated public square. (Ask any teen what she thinks about the possibility of her naked image randomly appearing on the screen, during a mid week school assembly.)

When her image becomes communal, the ensuing sexual bullying and recurrent psychological rape is unquestionable. Other girls brand her a ‘slut’ and blame her for not doing enough to prevent the image from popping up.

Many boys assume her body, like her image, to be public property and do to her as they enjoy or see fit. The resulting trauma is similar to that of a sexual assault survivor, with symptoms including anxiety, depression and self-harming behaviours. 

These distraught girls often resort to changing schools, only to find their naked images following them like a dark shadow. And so the inescapable cycle continues.

Of course, in an ideal world naked images, especially not those of minors, would not be  forwarded, stored or used without consent. This is not an ideal world.

Despite the so called safe-guards developed within apps, when will we learn? No app – Not Instagram, not Snapchat, not the Facebook app, nor anything yet to be developed – can make nonconsensual photo sharing impossible? And there is nothing we can do about it.

 

My comments were also given on News.com.au

Salon News – Snapchat photos are never actually deleted.

Herald Sun - Teens arrested in Melbourne over sexting.

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