Nude photos surf cell phone waves on what sexters wrongly assume to be a private beach

For minors, sending or receiving nude photos of significant others can lead to more than just arousal.

Sexting is disturbing and interesting.

Sexting, the sending of naked or semi-naked photos through text messages, is a relatively new trend growing among teenagers. But what appears to be a new form of entertainment brings with it some major consequences that teens aren’t properly educated on.

jillian weir-reeves

While the nude pictures may be intended for a particular person, in the digital age the photos have the potential to be seen by anyone who’s connected.

Sometimes, sexts reach the last group of people you’d want to see you naked: family, potential employers and the most potentially damaging group – law officials. The instant accessibility of sexts is the reason why a majority of cases end up in courtrooms.

Philip Alpert of Florida, for example, had just turned 18 when he and his 16-year-old girlfriend of two and a half years got into an argument. In retaliation, Alpert forwarded naked pictures his girlfriend had sent him to her family and friends, as reported by CNN.com.

Due to his age, Alpert was charged with child pornography for having nude photos of a minor. Once Alpert was prosecuted, he was ordered to register as a sex offender in Florida, a label he will keep until he is 43. Alpert was also expelled from college.

As the sexting trend rises in popularity, lawmakers are acting by molding existing law to the technologically-fueled pornographic status of sexts.

Teenagers may view sexting as a trendy and erotic way to be sexy. As sexting catches on among friends, a snowball effect ensues.

To avoid sexting issues, Florida is enforcing strict punishments like Alpert’s, but the probability of it having an immediate effect on the teen masses is low.

“Deterrents do not work well with teens because they do not think ahead,” Temple psychologist Laurence Steinberg, who specializes in perception and cognitive adolescent development, said. “They are acting off impulse with what seems fun in the moment and figure they will not be caught.”

Reports in the media say some are pointing their fingers at celebrities like Disney’s High School Musical actressVanessa Hudgens for implementing the idea of sexting into minors’ minds.

Hudgens, an idol for young girls, found her sex life more recognizable than her mouse ears when nude photos she sent to an ex-boyfriend resurfaced on the Internet. But for as much criticism as Hudgens received, she, along with other celebrities who have similar stories, have little influence on teens’ sexting habits, Steinberg said.

“Research shows that children are more influenced by friends over celebrities,” he said.

But if lawmakers want to place the blame on sexting, it goes beyond the media. Sex education and the influence of peers are both contributing factors to sexting’s popularity.

The power of teenage influence is being underestimated. If those around an individual all participate in sexting, the more likely it is that teenager will engage in sexting without knowing the risks. When Alpert’s girlfriend distributed the photos to him, was she aware that he could be charged with possession of child pornography? Probably not. When the sexts are sent, the consequences of getting caught don’t seem to cross teenagers’ minds.

As societal views toward sexuality become more liberal, it does not seem so out of the ordinary that teenagers would take a naked picture of themselves and send it digitally. Children grow up in a “sex sells” driven media world.

The lack of information about sex provides the gateway for ideas about sexting. Since sex education would help those curious about what they witness in the media ascertain what is appropriate. Sex education classes would reach young teens when their mentalities about sex are more of the same.

Perhaps an approach to hinder the popularity of sexting is to educate teenagers about the penalties involved with the action. The ideas behind programs like Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education are put in place by the government with the intention to reach out to elementary and middle school-aged children before they come into contact with drugs or alcohol.

In Juneau County, Wis., Scott Harold Southworth, the county’s district attorney, urged teachers not to adhere to the new state law “that requires districts with sex education programs to tell students about the proper use of contraceptives,” according to the New York Times.

But it becomes hypocritical to make laws against sexting when sex education in schools is thought of as taboo. In Congress, lawmakers constantly fight back and forth to keep sex education in and out of schools.

As a participant of sex education in my high school, I know one of the major benefits of sex education is that it provides a detailed explanation about the risks involved with sex. Kids should know about safe sex before they learn about safe sexting.

Jillian Weir-Reeves can be reached at jillian.weirreeves@temple.edu.

5 Comments

  1. Hi Jillian,

    After seeing your piece in the Temple News Online – you raise a series
    of significant points — I thought you might like to know of a paper I
    published recently in the journal, Visual Studies. The title is: >>
    ‘It’s only a picture’: sexting, ‘smutty’ snapshots and felony charges.
    << I have attached a PDF copy.

    I have also done a blog essay for the Center – see:
    http://cmch.typepad.com/cmch/2009/04/perspectives-on-sexting-part-i.html
    and/or https://sites.google.com/a/temple.edu/richard-chalfen-ph-d/

    I was a Professor of (Visual) Anthropology on the Anthropology faculty
    at Temple for 32 years (1972-2004) and am currently Senior Scientist
    at the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston
    (Richard.Chalfen@childrens.harvard.edu)

    I will be certain to give you the proper credit and citation as I
    continue to study and publish on this topic.

    Best, Richard Chalfen
    Emeritus Professor of Anthropology
    Temple University

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