Not having heard the term "sexting" before the San Francisco Chronicle interviewed her, one 17-year-old referred to the practice of sending nude images of one's self or peers on phones as "lame" and plain-old drama creation. Her comment "echoes a view shared by sexual-health educators, teen advocates and academics gathering in San Francisco [last] week for Sex Tech, a conference that promotes sexual health among youth through technology. They believe that the sexting 'trend' is a cultural fascination du jour and is way overblown," the Chronicle reports. But, they indicate, it's also a very risky way to act out normative sexual curiosity (if that's what's involved and not peer pressure or bullying).
Where minors are concerned, it's definitely not overblown. Besides the psychological consequences of teens having intimate photos of themselves sent or posted anywhere, anytime, in perpetuity, the practice is illegal. Under current child pornography laws, taking, sending, and receiving nude photos of minors is production, distribution, and possession of child pornography. Right now these laws are extremely black-and-white and don't distinguish between sexting and "traditional" child porn trafficking. The piece in the UK's Daily Mail I blogged about last week suggests that sexting is becoming a social norm, and a recent survey said a third of young adults and 20% of teens had posted nude or semi-nude photos or video of themselves (which also means 80% haven't, sex educators pointed out in the Chronicle). The 20% figure seems high, but even if sexting is becoming normative, the bottom line is: the law hasn't caught up with the norm and – as long as bullying is, if not a norm, a reality of adolescent life – where teens are involved, concern about sexting is justified! They need to be educated about both the legal and psychological consequences (see also "The Net effect"). My hope is that law enforcement people called in by schools to deal with these cases will treat them as "teachable moments" and play an educational role – not send these cases to prosecutors. [Last week I blogged about a wise district attorney who does not want them to reach his desk.]