By Laura Aebi
A study done by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 40% of teens with a cell phone have sent or received explicit text messages and that 20% of teens have sent or received nude or sexually suggestive photos.
Many of these sexting minors don’t realize that their cell phone conduct can land them with a hefty fine, or worse – on a sex offender list. Under the PROTECT Act of 2003, it’s federally illegal to produce, distribute, receive or possess with intent to distribute any obscene visual depiction of a minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. It’s even a federal crime to use a computer, including a cell phone, to ship, transport, receive, distribute or reproduce a depiction of a minor actually engaging in sexually explicit conduct.
In Texas, it is a Class C misdemeanor for minors to send or receive texts from other minors.
Many young people don’t realize the depth of laws surrounding their suggestive texts and in a culture where sex is everywhere, young people may struggle to understand the consequences of their actions – including the possibility that their explicit photos and texts might be shared and that they could be held accountable.
Senior in Public Relations Kaci Cunningham says she thinks sexting may be unavoidable in today’s dating culture and can give unrealistic expectations.
“If kids want to do it, they’re going to find a way to. Parents need to be aware of it. Honestly if I was a parent I would want to educate them on sex. I feel like sexting has a different perception than sex. It kind of distorts it,” Cunningham adds. “It creates sexual barriers, some people feel like if they’re doing it over the phone, they can be less connected in person.”
Texas State Sociology professor Gayle Bouzzard says she also thinks that sexting can create barriers but believes that the repercussions aren’t all negative.
“On one hand, I think we probably know more about each other going into a relationship or a one night stand – which can be good. But at the same time we might be getting to know each other on a more superficial level than the more traditional way of getting to know each other and then being sexual,” Bouzzard said. “It may not be any different than when we used to write notes to each other, you know, pass notes. There might be some more feeling of – you can be more open in expressing yourself because it’s through a text message.”
Bouzard also stressed that he doesn’t believe sexting is inherently dangerous as long as it’s done between consenting adults and describes it as almost a modern form of flirting, but says it can be misconstrued if both parties aren’t consenting adults.
In addition to unwanted content, another issue found with sexting is the virality of the message. DoSomething.org says that 17% of sexters share the messages they receive with others and 55% of those share them with more than one person.
DoSomething.org offers 5 tips for anyone considering sharing a nude photo:
1. Don’t assume anything you send or post is going to remain private.
2. There is no changing your mind in cyberspace.
3. Don’t give into the pressure to do something that makes you uncomfortable.
4. Consider the recipient’s reaction.
5. Nothing is truly anonymous.