Sexting… A Criminal Offence Or A Need For Better Sex Ed?

When it comes to the topic of teen “sexting”, the act of sending nude/barely dressed photos of ones self to another, I find it hard to believe that it can be a matter of “criminal offence” or a reasonable case for registering the photographer as a “sex offender,” especially considering the number variables and scenarios that come into play:

  • The role of the media and it’s influence on teens, up to and including TV/movies/music videos/advertising/print ads etc, and their continual use of sexuality to attain views, target a specific market or gain financial income. If a teen sees something, isn’t educated about its consequences, can we blame them for following the trend? Isn’t that the intention of most media outlets, to influence our decisions and behaviours?
  • Considering the amount of virtual unknowns that have become “celebrities” from sexual exploitation (i.e. Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Tila Tequila to name a few)it’s to be expected that teenage girls will only follow their lead as they think its ‘socially acceptable’, especially considering the level of fame and fortune that can be gained.
  • The constant need of society to sexualize everything i.e. a picture of three teenage girls “goofing off” in a bathroom barely dressed becomes the target of someone wanting to make an example of ‘child abuse’ or ‘child pornography’.
  • While it may sound out of place, I find we live in a society where there is a need to vilify others in order to seek a specific outcome; in cases where teens are taking photos of themselves and sending them, seeking to stop the behaviour in order to protect the “child” it is the child that becomes the so called “villain” with their behaviour tried in a court of law as “child abuse” or “child pornography”.  It’s no longer the typical “Pedophile” found as the villain, instead the consequences fall on the “child” who is now treated as a creator of “child porn”. Something just seems wrong about that.
  • The lack of sexual education and the role it plays in helping teens develop a healthy sense of self, respect and personal sexual awareness limiting the need for negative sexual gratification through personal exposure.

Does Sexting Constitute Child Pornography?

What I think I have the biggest issue with is that the terms “child porn” and “pedophile” are being brought into the discussion. I say this because very rarely is an adult the intended audience of such photos. Instead it is the teens friends, unrequited love or girlfriend/boyfriend of the same (or near) age that are the intended recipients.  I can only assume that most teens not only know better, but are self respecting enough not to send random naked photos of themselves to adults. But that’s another issue.

As for the actual issue of “sexting” between teens, the first thing that springs to mind is the old school “right of passage” where a boy would get a girl’s panties/bra, then show them to his friends in a way of gaining social acceptance/deliverance into “manhood.”  The action of providing “proof” of sexual behaviour for acceptance is not “new”, just the method in which it’s being translated.

With all of the advances in technology, teens no longer need to seek physical evidence (in the form of panties/bra or whatever it may be) to show proof of sexual behaviour to others in an attempt at acceptance/belonging. Now everything is push button, instant gratification…i.e. a boy gets a picture of a girls boobs, sends it to his friends and *poof* in an instant he’s cool for having such material because it proves that he’s “sexually active,” not only that but he’s “special” since he is the only person who has that photo.

Herein lies the problem, rarely (if ever) do photos stay between the two people involved in the “transaction.”

When A Sext Comes Back To Haunt You

With all of the “instant media” comes a loss of control; once something (a photo, text, etc.) leaves our hands we no longer have any control of who sees it. A person may have sent something with the intention of it only being seen by one other person, but unfortunately that is rarely the case. 

One of the very unfortunate side effects of this scenario is the belittling, bullying, teasing and unwanted sexual advances that usually come with such exposure, something that isn’t realized by the sender until after the fact.

That said, teens (between the ages of 12-17) “usually” don’t have the insight, life experience or education/knowledge to make decisions that are forward thinking enough to consider the personal repercussions and consequences that come with such behaviour whether it be tomorrow, next week or 10 years down the line.  Realizing this I think it’s highly unfair that a teen should be charged with something that can negatively affect the rest of his or her adult life the way claims of “child abuse” or “pornography” can.

I really do hate to say it, but this is where I think the benefit of active parenting comes into play; as a parent, knowing that my child has access to such personally exploitive technology, it is my responsibility to help teach them about the consequences, especially knowing that if left to their own devices most teens will do what they want, when they want, unless they know of the repercussions and punishments attached to the behaviour.

While I do place some of the sex ed responsibility on the parents, I can also understand that in today’s hectic society, where both parents spend most of their time working to sustain the family, there usually isn’t enough time to “actively parent”. Acknowledging that brings me to the question that’s most often presented in relation to “sexting”; do teens need to be “protected” from themselves?

In an answer, yes….but not to the extent most legal cases seek.

Sexting Shows A Need For Better Sex Ed…And Better Parenting

I agree that there needs to be some sort of regulation or rule against it. Not in the instance of it being a hardcore criminal offence like “pornography” or “child abuse” (which to me seems unreasonable) but instead possibly a lesser charge of “indecent exposure” for the sender or “defamation of character” for the receiver (if it’s spread around without permission from the sender) depending on the situation and based solely case by case.

That said, like most laws which are based on the concept that a young person may desire sex but may lack the experience possessed by legal adults to make a mature decision, I think the same rules should apply to “sexting” in cases where one is an adult and the other a minor. Maybe in this case it could be classified as ‘child pornography’ but only in two instances:

  • The adult (or person of consenting age) was the person taking the picture of someone who is not the legal age of consent
  •   The adult (or person of consenting age) asked for the photos from someone who is not the legal age of consent
  •   Upon receiving the photos (without asking for them) the adult did not delete them or reprimand the “child” for such behaviour, identifying it as inappropriate and educating them why.

While I do find it inappropriate for teens to be taking nude/barely dressed photo’s of them selves and posting them for others to see, when ever it comes to the subject of teens, their sexuality and/or forms of sexual expression I find myself constantly having to choose between the lesser of two evils; would I prefer someone actually had sex or took photo’s of them self for the purpose of sexual gratification?

Knowing the possible ramifications and risks associated with intercourse, I choose the latter. Especially when it’s used in the attempt to delay sexual intercourse between two individuals who are in a committed, consensual, trusting relationship, but not sure if they are ready to deal with consequences like contracting an STD or an unintended pregnancy that come with it.

That said, do I think “sexting” a case for “criminal offence” or “child pornography”…no. It just serves to reinforce the need for more positive education on sex/sexuality and a wider scope of understanding.


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