Being a teen sucks, #8

with 3 comments

#8: Newspapers like to create sensationalism about deemed “dangerous behavior” for teens.


My reasons for not sexting are twofold: 1) I only got my first cell phone last summer; therefore I’m somewhat behind on all things texting, and 2) since getting a phone, I haven’t met anyone compelling enough with whom for me to sext. However, I wouldn’t say I’m completely disinclined to sexting; I have in the past sent some dirty notes and emails to boyfriends. And this brings me to my first point of defense for sexting: that young adults have and always will express to each other some amount of interest in sex, which isn’t some sort of deadly epidemic to be contained.

By the time I had my first long-term boyfriend, email had nearly replaced the phone as my friends’ primary medium of communication– Facebook was soon to come– and while I stuck to the occasional raunchy email, some of my friends typed dirty via instant messenger. Before this, it was paper: notes in class (often still used; extra points if it’s in a language the teacher can’t understand) and letters. Read Love in the Time of Cholera and you’ll see the naturalness of young adults expressing desire on paper. For this reason I take offense at the all too common sentiment that teenagers should not be sexual beings, period. Lately, the newspapers that have covered sexting as well as the famously judgmental Tyra Banks have eschewed and belittled the sexuality of young adults, painting to various levels of subtlety all sexually active 16-year-old girls as nothing other than sluts. Sadly, I have read nothing condemning boys to the same scrutiny; it seems that establishing young women as sad victims of a downward spiral of so-called dangerous activity gains more readers than presenting a balanced story. While it may be true that today’s youth is more sexually open than that of fifty years ago– our ads and tv shows are certainly getting steamier– teenage sex is not a new phenomenon, and should not be reflexively denounced.

I think the strongest argument against sexting is that anything digital can gain global exposure (e.g. girl sends naked pic to boy; boy sends to all his friends). I certainly wouldn’t want any compromising photos of me or messages sent by me to circulate the internet; that’s why I don’t plan on sexting with anyone too new for me to trust.

But if we’re talking about internet scandal, licentious pictures and texts are hardly the only fodder for gossip. Born in ’91, I grew up with the internet, with my first email address at ten and my first instant messaging screen name at eleven. Though I rarely anymore email friends, now preferring (degenerating?) to use the phone, I’ve sent emails to several people about my intimate feelings: confessions, problems with friends and boyfriends, etc. If any one of my friends wanted to embarrass me on the internet, they could easily forward several years worth of my musings about a hot teacher or a regrettable hookup to virtually the entire school. While my Facebook page is private (only those I permit may view), anyone with a camera could upload a picture of me smoking, thizzing, or drinking to a public form, jeopardizing my college acceptances and my future jobs. Thankfully I have not yet been embarrassed by the internet, but I have been upset by off-line gossip nearly as harmful as forwarded sext messages. Ex-boyfriends have betrayed confidences, friends have unwittingly told secrets, mercifully few strangers have passed on gossip. Anyone should be careful when it comes to sexting and who to trust, but this ultimately comes down to cautious use of all kinds of both digital and non-digital communication. For essentially, all relationships involve a certain level of vulnerability, and it is impossible to completely protect oneself from vilification.

Additionally, most of the stories I’ve seen portray young men as the cruel forwarders of private pictures, failing to note that women are as capable of such malice. I know I have taken advantage of things told in confidence: when an ex of mine spread the untrue rumor that I cheated with multiple partners, I mercilessly retaliated with a very true story about a foreign object and the boy’s painfully tight orifice.

I’m glad that some newspapers, such as my very own San Francisco Chronicle, are dismissing the sexting sensationalism. I love this quote from Marty Klein:

Sexting is the latest way adults are getting panicky about teen sexuality and for mainstream culture to get panicky about technology. And when you mix the two together, there’s always a lot of anxiety and misunderstanding.

I hope other publications choose to more carefully examine sexting, rather than to mindlessly reproduce stories without any substantial content. Or better yet, they could turn their focus toward legitimate news.


Written by jane

March 21, 2009 at 11:44 AM

Posted in teens

Tagged with , , ,

3 Responses

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  1. Actually, I mostly agree with you. I don’t think being sexual should be a taboo for those of a certain maturity level, but I do think there’s a strong risk for young women (who are not as self-assured as you appear to be) to feel pressured into being more sexual than they’re ready for.

    Also, if you look at Vanessa Hudgeons for example, it’s clear that people you know aren’t the only risk. Just because you send something to Person A doesn’t mean s/he is the only person who has access to it. All data has to be stored somewhere, so a Google or Yahoo or Whoever employee *could* in theory access your “private” naked photo (or whatever).

    Again, I’m not saying you can’t send stuff (and I mean “you” like a general you, not a Jane you) — I’m just saying you better be sure you can deal with the potential consequences. Personally I think V. Hudgeons did a pretty decent job with that.

    Keep in mind, in Europe this would all be ridiculous anyway. We’re relatively prudish, preferring violence over sexuality, for reasons that aren’t completely sensible to me.


    March 25, 2009 at 6:12 PM

  2. Sexual pressure has never been much of a problem for me, as I’m not really concerned with the supposed consequences of saying no and walking away (e.g. awkwardness, being called a tease) but I think it’s lousy that I feel the pressure, especially when it’s coming from someone in whom I’ve expressed absolutely no sexual interest. I dislike the notion of entitlement to sex. I guess I could consider myself lucky that no one has gotten too physically forceful with me– I’m 5’1″– but then, not being coerced into sex shouldn’t be considered a luxury, you know? I’m struggling to see where sexual pressure fits into everything.

    I don’t know much about the Vanessa Hudgeons scandal, but you picked a good example of an insignificant act causing relative mayhem online. I agree that it shouldn’t have been such a big deal, but if you’re working for Disney something as small as a nude picture puts your career in (wrongful) jeopardy. Likewise, it’s not fair that crackers broke into Sarah Palin’s email account, but if she hadn’t been using Yahoo for gubernatorial business it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. Essentially, it was her choice to communicate this business through a relatively insecure server, rather than the proper email host.

    But in certain situations people have no choice but to use a certain technology; lately I have been required to complete SAT registrations and financial aid submissions online. If I were running in a presidential campaign someone could easily crack the College Board site, exposing to the nation that I only scored however much on this SAT II and only have this much in my bank account. I’m just glad that no one cares enough to sabotage me!


    March 25, 2009 at 7:20 PM

  3. Oh I wasn’t even talking about being physically pressured into sexual acts, but rather about the emotional pressure a guy could put on a girl to “sext” (or something similar). I’m glad to hear you aren’t intimidated, but there are a lot of girls out there who are.


    March 25, 2009 at 7:28 PM

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