I am often struck by how technology changes our lives. How something like a phone reinforces a lot of the norms that our community has around dating, consent, and sexuality. An example of this is sexting. According to the dictionary, sexting is sending, receiving, or forwarding someone sexually suggestive or even explicit messages and photos through a mobile device. When you see conversation around sexting in the community, it is typically punitive, especially regarding young people. The discussion with young people often centers around the warning, "don't do it" because you will regret it, but there are other considerations. What if the pictures go viral? What might this do to the sender’s reputation? Many do not understand that in some states, sending sexual images of someone underage is considered the distribution of child pornography, and can be prosecuted.
It is also important to note that girls are often the targets of most of the messages mentioned above. Most of the consequences mentioned would not concern boys. Why is that? One reason may that we rarely talk to boys about this behavior, and that it is coercive and wrong. The problem is approached from the perspective of reducing risk (e.g., don’t get caught) rather than understanding the reason boys do it – because they are taught to objectify girls’ bodies. This behavior is something that gets reinforced as they grow up.
This is not just a youth problem though. Many of my single women friends talk about men demanding sexts from them. Sexting makes me think about the messages I received from my dad when I was growing up regarding women's bodies. A lot of that messaging was messed up; as was some of my behavior. But, it is important to note that the messaging didn't just come from my parents. I got messages about what mattered and how I needed to show up by who reaped the rewards. In other words, the popular kids conformed to these norms. They tried those norms on like designer clothes and immersed themselves in them. Like those clothes, kids are immersing themselves in the societal norms we taught them.
Also, the conversation around sexting never talks about the beauty standards that young women face. The pressure to be attractive. The pressure to be desirable. The pressure to be popular. And, how being attractive and desirable is often tied to popularity. We don't talk about the oppressive nature of beauty standards and how society sets women up to compete with each other for attention from men. Conversely, the conversation concerning sexting never talks about the pressure young men face. Think about it; if every one of your friends has explicit photos of girls on their phones, then he will feel pressure if he doesn’t. What might he do to change this? We all know that when the pressure to fit in increases good judgment decreases. Maybe the first conversation we need to have is with ourselves, then how we contribute to the problem knowingly or not and what can we do about it?