Sexting, a term which combines â€œsexâ€ with â€œtexting,â€ refers to the sending of messages or pictures which are sexual in nature from one mobile device to another. This practice, which is particularly popular with teenagers in English-speaking countries, has come under a great deal of public scrutiny and has drawn much attention due to the private nature of the activity as well as its potentiality to be used as a tool in bullying and sexual harassment.
History of Sexting
Sexting evolved innocently enough. Before the digital age, it was rather difficult for people to exchange sexual messages quickly as it involved waiting for mail delivery or photo development. With the advent of email, messages traveled quicker, and when internet chat was developed, cybersex was born. Once the digital camera appeared, photographs were fast and easy, no longer reliant on the lengthy (and often not very private) process of developing film. The first mobile phones made texting a reality, allowing people to exchange personal messages instantly, but it was not until phones were produced with decent quality cameras built in (around 2005) that sexting really came about.
Keeping Love Alive
While sexting has received substantial criticism due to its potentially negative uses, the truth of the matter is that it, like every other means of exchanging personal messages, has its good attributes as well. Sexting can be used to keep romance alive by bridging distances, to reinforce the positives in a relationship, to build intimacy through both chatting and exchanging pictures and videos, and to simply have fun.
Sexting not only encourages partners to use their imagination, explore fantasies, and indulge sexual urges when they arise, but it also poses no risks of STDs. Moreover, the intimacy can be stopped cold whenever either partner wishes to end the contact. Shy and self-conscious individuals may find it easier to communicate their sexual feelings or desires through sexting rather than having a face-to-face conversation.
Some psychologists theorize, however, that sexting is one more indicator that an increasing number of people are experiencing attachment issues, a statement founded on our inability to â€œunplugâ€. Basic behavioral action such as standing by for a text message, constantly refreshing Facebook or checking for emails are patterns similar to a pigeon in a Skinner box, pressing a button to receive food.
Many people use their mobile devices and social networking tools as a means of searching for continuous positive reinforcement. For instance, if a message you have been anticipating comes in, you will feel better, and if it does not, you may sit and wait for it, rather than engaging in other activities and allowing yourself to fully detach from the situation at hand. Psychologists suggest that sexting can be indicative of developing codependence issues, if an individual feels they must constantly communicate with a partner instead of allowing for both people to have time and space to themselves; studies have found that attachment anxiety is a strong predictor for a positive perception of sexting.
The Downside of Sexting
The main opponent of sexting remains its popularity with teens, and two negative issues it raises: teens can be bullied through the use of sexting, and this method of communication tends to â€œnormalizeâ€ sexuality at a young age.
With sexually explicit photographs circulating around the classrooms of middle school and high school, it is not hard to imagine that some students could get hurt. Many instances have been found whereby students distribute private photos of an ex in an attempt at revenge post-breakup; consequently some teens fear that this may happen to them if they break up with their partner, which is liable to give the relationship an abusive element. Teens may stay together long after the relationship has run its course in fear of retaliation through spiteful sexting. Other teens have manipulated or otherwise solicited photos of typically less-popular students for the purpose of distributing the pictures and humiliating the victim. To date, several teens have committed suicide after photos that they thought were private were forwarded to their entire school, causing a barrage of bullying and hostility from classmates.
The consequences of sexting for today's youth can be dire for not only the victim; students caught with sexually-explicit pictures of other minors may face charges of child pornography, as well as school-related consequences, such as suspension, expulsion, and being barred from extra-curricular activities.
Sexuality is a powerful weapon, and many argue that it does not belong in the hands of teenagers, who lack the emotional maturity to handle it with discretion. The teenage years are a time of experimenting with boundaries, and those created by sexting are better left in the hands of adults, who understand the implications and can handle sexual communication with responsibility.