4 minute read

Are Sexting Teens Guilty of Making Child Porn?

Last Updated: February 20, 2014

Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

Sexting is the act of sending or receiving sexually suggestive messages or photos via cell phone (or some other hand held device). How widespread is this, you may ask?

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com commissioned a survey of teens and young adults to explore electronic activity. They found . . .

  • 1 in 5 (20%) teens overall have sent or posted nude or seminude pictures or videos of themselves.
  • 2 in 5 (39%) teens are sending or posting sexually suggestive messages

Why Sexting?

To many the notion of flashing racy photos of oneself to others via cell phone or Internet seems all-together stupid. What ever happened to privacy? To decency? What has led to this kind of behavior?

Cyberbullying expert Kate McCaffrey says, “The internet is saturated with sexual imagery. It’s the norm.” In this world of digital sexuality, “Girls generally feel some sort of pressure to give something sexually that they’re not comfortable doing,” she says. “They’re desperately seeking approval from the boy they’re interested in, so they’ll naively send the photo, not knowing he’s then going to upload it.”

The sexting survey found . . .

  • 71% of teen girls and 67% of teen guys who have sent or posted sexually suggestive content say they have sent/posted this content to a boyfriend/girlfriend.
  • 21% of teen girls and 39% of teen boys say they have sent such content to someone they wanted to date or hook up with.
  • 15% of teens who have sent or posted nude/seminude images of themselves say they have done so to someone they only knew online.
  • 51% of teen girls say pressure from a guy is a reason girls send sexy messages or images; only 18% of teen boys cited pressure from female counterparts as a reason.
  • 23% of teen girls and 24% of teen boys say they were pressured by friends to send or post sexual content.
  • 66% of teen girls and 60% of teen boys who have sent sexually suggestive content say they did so to be “fun or flirtatious” (this was their most common reason for sending sexy content)
  • 40% of teen girls who have sent sexually suggestive content said they sent sexually suggestive messages or images as “a joke.”
  • 34% of teen girls who have sent sexually suggestive content say they sent/posted sexually suggestive content to “feel sexy.”

Moreover, youth culture has a different definition of privacy than a generation ago. Psychologist Dr. Judith Paphazy says that when teens and twenty-somethings grow up on a steady diet of reality television, they easily conclude that a loss of privacy is not only normal, but that it offers rewards. In fact, teens who share these photos don’t really see this activity in terms of “giving up their privacy.” Adolescents are “group animals,” she says, and they willingly share “risky” material within their adolescent group. They feel that their online networks are their “private” space for their friends to congregate. Many are unfortunately unaware that once something is digital, it is impossible (or very hard) to erase.

Concern #1: Reputation

Because these digital images are impossible to get rid of, some may find that their digital sexual escapades can come back to bite them later. What happens when these photos are distributed around the school or to potential employers?

The sexting survey found . . .

  • Among teen girls, 38% say they have had sexually suggestive text messages or emails—originally meant for someone else—shared with them, and 25% say they have had nude or semi-nude images—originally meant for someone else—shared with them
  • Among teen boys, 39% say they have had sexually suggestive text messages or emails—originally meant for someone else—shared with them, and 33% of teen boys say they have had nude or semi-nude images—originally meant for someone else—shared with them.

Concern #2: Cyberbullying

This concern is related to the first one . . . it is far too easy for teens with malicious intent to use these messages and photos to slander someone else.

Concern #3: Sexual Norms

We must call sexting what it is: teens making their own porn. This digital form of self-expression is working its way into the fabric of teen interactions and is beginning to become the norm. This is just one more example of the sex-on-tap culture in which we live.

In this image-based culture we digest billions of bite-sized bits of data—billions of pictures painting a thousand words—at break-neck speeds. In the midst of this, we are surrounded by hyper-sexualized media and pornography. This generation, raised on the Internet, has had a strong sexual message burned into its brains: “put out or get out.”

The research shows, time and again, that when children or adolescents are directly exposed to pornography, they are more likely to desire sexual intercourse at an earlier age, more likely to see sex as a commodity, less likely to see marriage or having a family as attractive prospects, and more likely to see certain abnormal sexual practices as “normal.”

Concern #4: Child Porn Laws

I, for one, believe the law needs to adapt to this new cultural phenomenon. I don’t feel that teens trying to “flirt” with one another should be put into the same legal category as the purveyors of child prostitution and child porn websites. The intention and scope of their actions are clearly different, however, as the law currently stands, teens can be charged with a felony. Charges against them can include possessing or exhibiting a photograph of a child in a sexual act, distributing material of a child in a sexual act, and possession of child pornography.

No, I don’t believe we should hunt down and lock up 1 in 5 teens on felony charges, but the law does need to adapt so that something is done about this growing trend.