None of us are old enough to remember the long history of flirting. But ask your parents or grandparents and they’ll tell you all about the complicated courting that eventually led to, well, you. The intense fleeting glances across crowded markets, the love letters and the pebbles thrown against windows at night. Our generation, the smartphone generation, armed with instant messaging and megapixel cameras, is guilty of a more concise and direct approach to charming one another. And one of the most powerful weapons in our arsenal is sexting – the messy exchange of sexually charged messages often paired with equally racy pictures. Are we getting carried away with technology or are sexts just the modern (albeit risqué) version of love letters?
Jonathan* and Kevin* are a couple who believe that sexting is a healthy way for our generation to express intimacy. “Why not?” asks Kevin. “On nights when I’m not with him and I feel a little horny, it’s the easiest thing to do.” The two say that they don’t understand what the big deal about sexting is. “If you know how to do it right and you’re comfortable with yourself, it can be a big part of the romance. It’s only done great things for our sex life,” adds Jonathan almost bashfully.
Lifestyle blogger Penelope Trunk maintains that sexting is as dangerous as any other flirting ritual that people practise – where we once dared to expose our emotions, we now expose our physical selves. In an article for The Daily Beast she writes: “Sending a naked photo of yourself is an emotionally intimate act because of the implied trust you have in the recipient. When you act in a trusting way – like trusting the recipient of the photo to handle it with care and respect – you benefit because being a generally trusting person is an emotionally sound thing to [be].”
Trunk later adds that for adults, sexting is all about confidence and having fun. “As long as you make yourself look hot in the photo, you’ll probably be okay. Because good-looking people earn more money, have more friends, and have more fun in life than the not-good-looking. So if you can figure out how to take a good photo of yourself, text it to anyone you want.”
Still, not everyone is sold on the idea of sexting. Marie Oberholzer, a second-year public administration student, finds the whole idea tasteless. “I think it’s shameful for people our age to be putting themselves out there like that. I would never do that.” Oberholzer adds that our generation is overexposed to sexual content and that we are always under pressure to seem more mature and attractive, even at the expense of our morals. “Most of us were taught that sex is something special between two people. If we carry around the evidence of our private moments on our phones, how is that still special?”
There’s a risk that everyone takes when they send someone else a naked picture of themselves. You never know what intentions the recipient may have. IsAnyoneUp.com was a pornographic website founded in 2010 based on the concept of “revenge porn”. The website gave jilted exes the opportunity to post naked images and sex tapes of their former lovers, usually accompanied by detailed and embarrassing descriptions of their sexual quirks. The scorned would divulge the full names of their exes and would even include Facebook profile pictures. The website was temporarily shut down following numerous lawsuits against founder Hunter Moore and was relaunched as a platform for organisations to speak up against cyberbullying. Recently, a copycat website – IsAnyoneDown.com – has been launched, proving the popular saying: the internet never forgets.
A study published in 2011 in the Pediatrics journal by the University of Southern California revealed that American teenagers who were sexting had a greater chance of exhibiting risky sexual behaviour in the real world. The study showed that teenagers who confessed to sending nude pictures of themselves to their peers also admitted to having multiple sexual partners, having sex while under the influence of drugs and alcohol and not using condoms with their partners. This, the survey concluded, showed that what people do online, usually reflects their behaviour in reality as well.
Whether you choose to do it or not, there’s one personal and social obligation you can’t ignore when sexting: safety. The same rules we follow for actual sex apply in the virtual sense too. It should always be between two consenting adults (sextual harassment still counts as harassment). No sexting with strangers. No sexting family members. It’s always best in a relationship, but can be just as fun when you’re single. And finally: if you’re hard up on partners, you can always sext yourself – all the psychologists say it’s perfectly normal.
*Names have been changed