The embarrassing political troubles of the unfortunately but aptly named former Congressman Anthony Weiner has catapulted the term “sexting” into cultural consciousness once again, prompting a sudden discussion on what, exactly, “sexting” is—and whether we should be worried about it. Dr. Keith Ablow, FOX News’ psychiatry expert, weighed in with a column entitled “What Weiner’s sexting scandal tells us about young women today,” concluding that it tells us that too many women are not having Private Part Pinups texted to them against their will. Rather, Ablow writes, “I can tell you that the average young woman no longer balks at sexting, watching pornography, or being the aggressor sexually in a relationship.” Slate.com noted that while the rates of boys and girls sexting—specifically, sending nude pictures of themselves—are pretty much the same, boys are far more likely to send these pictures on to their peers, resulting in often savage bullying that has culminated in tragedies like the recent suicides of several young girls. While Monsieur Weiner’s recurring predicaments have prompted a lot of snickering from the media, the “sexting” problem in general has become decidedly unfunny.
Some time ago, two of my colleagues and I were meeting with a group of high school students who had expressed interest in getting involved spreading the pro-life message inside their high schools. One of them mentioned, almost off-handedly, that the pressure on girls to send explicit pictures was constant—“they keep asking until you give in,” she told us. Wondering just how pervasive this phenomenon was, I sent a series of emails around asking various students whether or not that was true—and what sort of impact that had on the high school culture. What makes their responses even more shocking, I think, is the fact that all of these students attend either Catholic schools or private Protestant schools.
“I find that those who sext because of peer pressure or because they are trying to keep someone interested are most often young girls,” one girl responded. “I’m not saying boys don’t receive the same pressure from friends, but I find that it is most often the girl’s job to keep the boys interested, and what better way than to show them exactly what they want to see? In those cases of peer pressure or those of keeping someone interested, the people who had sexted most often tried to hide it. What always seems to happen, though, is that the people who receive the initial picture show it to all of their friends. Eventually rumors spread, and friendships are ruined and people are hurt in the process. It’s things like this that cause teenagers to hurt themselves or commit suicide.”
Dr. Arthur Cassidy, a social psychologist commenting on the “sexting” phenomenon in The Guardian,agrees: “I think it’s most dominant in young girls. Many more girls buy glossy magazines than boys, and there are more female sexually explicit icons. Statistically you also get more attention [on online social networking sites] if you put up a photo of yourself and the more explicit the photo, the more responses you get…Females have more sexual pressure on them now than ever before, so rather than focus on the inner person, it’s about looking at the body as a sexual image.”
That, of course, is the root of the problem: “It’s about looking at the body as a sexual image.” A thing, not a person. An object to be desired, not a friend to be made. Another high school student wrote that a huge number of boys in her classes were viewing pornography every night. When they arrive at school, of course, many boys are no longer satisfied with forming intellectual friendships with their female peers—they want to objectify them in the same way they objectify the faceless parade of porn stars they viewed the evening before. They want personalized pornography, a brand new sexual high. High school girls are pressured into thinking that in order to keep and maintain male attention, they have to provide the very tools the boys will use to objectify them and render them faceless.
“To be honest I was kind of happy he texted,” ‘Cassie’ wrote, “At least someone was thinking about me. We talked about everything from dogs to push-ups. He asked me to send him a picture. I’m not stupid and I know what he meant, but I asked him what he wanted a picture of. This is where I should have drawn the line or perhaps even earlier. I know that now and did then too but didn’t particularly care. He slowed my phone down by sending me hundreds of mega-bytes worth of pictures taken of his bare stomach and groin. I laughed. I don’t know why. He asked for a picture again. I sent him one of my face. His next comment was a long exaggerated ‘noooooooooo not that’ and then ‘you made a little mistake’ (another smiley) ‘I’ll give you another chance.’ Apparently finding it funny, that I were his student he was trying to teach. I then walked up a flight of stairs, went inside the bathroom, angrily took my clothes off, snapped two pictures exactly, and sent them.”
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