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.
Banned, censored and 'offensive' artworks
Banned, censored and 'offensive' artworks
1/8 'My Bed' - Tracey Emin
Emin, one of the Young British Artists, created arguably her most iconic and controversial piece of art with 'My Bed'. It was short-listed for the 1999 Tuner Prize but sparked public outrage and a media furore. Emin's own bed is displayed here, surrounded by evidence of her sexual, self-destructive exploits. Stained sheets, fag butts, empty beer bottles, condom and worn underwear can all be seen in this image of suicidal depression following a major break-up.
2/8 'Christ You Know It Ain't Easy' - Sarah Lucas
This 3D piece by English artist and Tracey Emin contemporary Sarah Lucas is made from cigarette butts and depicts Christ being crucified on the cross of the English flag. It is thought to be a comment on the difficulty of quitting smoking. Lucas took up the habit aged 9. Much of her work is designed to be shocking and provocative - someone is always offended.
3/8 'Fountain' - Marcel Duchamp
This scandalous porcelain urinal, signed R.Mutt, was rejected by the Society of Independent Artists in 1917 even though the rules stated that any submission would be accepted from artists who paid the fee. Pictured here is a replica of the 1917 piece. The original is believed lost. 'Fountain' is an example of Duchamp's revolutionary 'readymades' - ordinary manufactured objects designated by the artist as art.
4/8 'The Holy Virgin Mary' - Chris Ofili
The provocative Sensation exhibit at the Brooklyn Art Museum in 1999 caused great offence. Nigerian artist Ofili's depiction of an African Madonna surrounded by black bottoms and elephant poo was called 'anti-Catholic' and 'horrible' by New York's mayor at the time. So 'horrible' that Rudy Giuliani filed a lawsuit against the museum.
5/8 'Immersion Piss Christ' - Andres Serrano
Two Catholic activists partially destroyed US artist Serrano's artwork while it was on display in the south of France. Created in 1987, it represents a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist's own urine.
6/8 'Western-Christian Civilization' - Leon Ferrari
Argentine conceptual artist Ferrari often dealt with power and religion in his work, using images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary with cages, frying pans and even meat blenders. Showing Christ crucified on a fighter plane, 'Western-Christian Civilization' was a protest work against the Vietnam War. Governments were constantly battling against Ferrari - he was exiled from Brazil and a 2004 exhibition of his work was temporarily forced to close when Pope Francis intervened.
7/8 'Bacchante and Infant Faun' - Frederick William MacMonnies
This bronze statue caused an uproar in 1854 when an architect tried to erect it in the courtyard of the Boston Public Library. Modern viewers will see little to get het up about but the nude Roman wine deity's 'drunken indecency' offended the Women's Christian Temperance Union. It was taken down to the more liberal New York instead and is now exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. MacMonnies earned worldwide fame as a result.
8/8 'Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain' - Damien Hirst
No stranger to controversy, Hirst's original sculpture had no fig leaf to protect his modesty. The artist added the extra detail to prevent issues with Chinese collectors and left it in when the sculpture was displayed in Qatar. Nudity can offend Islamic culture, particularly in places where the general public has not been exposed to contemporary art.
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.Reuse content