There's nothing wrong with 'sexting' - everyone has done it

Of course teenagers will send naughty pictures online; it's hormones meets technology. Let's not hold that against them
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The Independent Online

Apparently, 'sexting' - sharing explicit photographs of yourself either by text or online - is now part of normal life for teenagers. A recent study has found that one in four teens do it.

Predictably, a lot of the reaction has been a bit Victorian, melodramatically heralding the disintegration of British moral values. But I don't think we can blame easily accessible pornography, or the relentless kinkification of media and advertising in recent years, for the sexting trend. I'd argue that in any social environment, hormones plus smartphones would equal sexting.

Can any British adult really claim never to have sent a cheeky snap or an explicit text? I know I have. I consider it to be one of the major perks of technological advancement. So why would I place a damning moral judgment on people younger than me for doing exactly the same thing? In fact, if the technology had existed when I was younger, I would have been sexting back when I was sixteen.

Don't misunderstand me - I'm not applauding the increasingly normalised pressure on younger and younger children to engage in sexual activities.  But I think we have a responsibility to take a slightly more nuanced view of the sexting trend. There's a vast difference between the stories we hear of eight year olds swapping links to porn clips in the classroom, and teenagers taking their first steps into the sexual arena.

Earlier this month, I spoke to a man who teaches cyber safety lessons in schools. His lessons hinge, he told me, on the notion that any content sent using an internet connection (including text pictures) creates a permanent digital footprint and can never be erased. Meanwhile, employers use an incredibly sophisticated screening process, and have apparently taken to dismissing candidates based on 'inappropriate' sexual online behaviour.

'Sexting affects your employability' was message, designed to encourage teens to think twice before sending naked content to one another.

I can't help but be angered by this. Our internet activity might leave an indelible trail, but that's no reason to wilfully judge young people forever on decisions they made during puberty. After all, if we were judged on everything we said and did at school, we'd all be unemployed.

There's a secondary consideration, here, in that it's usually young women who are doing the sending in a sexting scenario. So, on the one hand they're facing pressure from boys to take naked photos of themselves, and on the other authority figures are telling them their behaviour will render them unemployable.

I remember what it was like to be a teenage girl. In a boys-vs-potential-damage-to-some-ethereal-notion-of-my-future-self decision making process, boys always won. This wasn't because I was oppressed, it was because I was horny, naive and desperate for attention - in that regard, I think I was completely normal.

If we want to see more women in business, employers need to recognise that sexting has absolutely no bearing on an individual's ability to do their job. A woman can be sexually active, intellectual, capable and maternal simultaneously. Employers need to recognise that all our sex lives are entering the digital realm, they need to be a little more open minded.

The other cornerstone of this particular cyber safety lesson was that nude snaps often end up on pornography sites. Young women were advised not to take and send naked pictures to protect themselves from their image being used to advertise porn. But this is the same school of thought that advises women not to wear short skirts if they wish to avoid being raped. The content of our social networking accounts should not be accessible to pornographers and our intellectual property should not be used to advertise sex services. This is a purely legal matter which should be addressed by the a change in legislation, not shouldered by young people.

Ultimately, this is a self-esteem issue. Young people should be given the emotional tools they need to refuse peer pressure and to resist the urge to do things simply because 'everyone' else is. If they still choose to sext, we need to accept that it's simply because they want to.

Teenagers have instinctive curiosities regarding nudity and sex. They always have, and always will, and sexting is an inevitable bi-product of this, updated for the digital age. Sending or posting sexual content doesn't make you a bad human and it certainly doesn't affect your ability to perform in the workplace. So let's stop judging teens, or trying to scare them off their phones, and instead equip them with the confidence and knowledge to make informed choices for themselves.

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