In this age of technology and information, internet and mobile technology devices dominate our society (Burton, L, 2012, p.1), with over 90% of Australians aged 15-17 owning mobile phones (Australian Communications and Media Authority, 2010, ₱4). Today’s teens are also overexposed to sexual content in many aspects of the media (Burton, L, 2012). This highly sexualised digital culture has transformed the way youth relate to one other (Walker. S., Sanci, L. & Temple-Smith, M, 2011).
One phenomenon that has emerged from the increased accessibility of these devices and sexual exposure is the practice of ‘sexting’ (Society Pages, 2013, ₱1). The term ‘sexting’ derives from merging the words ‘texting’ and ‘sex’ and “refers to the sending of sexually provocative material from modern communications devices” (Forde, L. & Hardley, S., 2011). ‘Sexting’ is currently receiving mass media attention (Walker, S., Sanci, L., & Temple-Smith, M., 2011). It is recognised as one of latest youth phenomena in popular culture (Funnell, N, 2012).
Although the sharing of sexually explicit material is not a new concept, it has become simpler with the internet (Walker, S., Sanci, L., & Temple-Smith, M., 2011). Shared images “become part of a young person’s digital footprint, which may last forever and have the potential to damage future career prospects or relationships” (NSW Government, 2008, ₱3.). The prevalence of sexting
A national survey conducted in 2010 by the organisation Understanding Teenagers found that 59% of teenagers have electronically transmitted sexually suggestive material (Understanding Teenagers, 2010, ₱3). In another survey conducted by the popular teen girl magazine Girlfriend found that 40% of 558 participants had been involved in sexting (Parliament of Victoria Law Reform Committee Sexting Inquiry (PVLRCSI), 2012).
In Queensland alone, 459 sexting offences were reported in 2011 (PVLRCSI, 2012) and in Western Australia sexting offences have tripled in number from 2009 to 2011 (PVLRCSI, 2012). Research by American psychologist Andrew Smiler found various causes that attribute to sexting: to demonstrate commitment in a relationship, to impress friends, to harass or bully, or as a dare. According to an article in the Teacher Learning Network journal,
In popular culture, sexting is seen as a young person’s phenomenon: mobile phones, raunch culture, a lack of inhibition, a lack of respect even a lack of morals are seen by many as the perfect storm that has created the sexting phenomenon.(Funnell, N, 2012). Looking at sexting through the lens of Sociological Theory
Sexting is recognised as a gender related issue because young girls feel pressure from the over-sexualised media to present themselves as sexually desirable. Similarly, young men have been conditioned to expect this behaviour. Sexting has created a mechanism for young people to actualize these expectations (Walker. S., Sanci, L. & Temple-Smith, M, 2011). It is understood that young girls are at greater risk of adverse effects than young men by this behaviour (Walker. S., Sanci, L. & Temple-Smith, M, 2011). Experts go as far as to claim “…the possibility of a link between sexting and gendered sexual violence targeting women” (Walker. S., Sanci, L. & Temple-Smith, M, 2011).
Woman’s advocate, writer and speaker Melinda Tankard- Reist discusses in her DVD Too Sexy Too Soon that our society tells young girls their primary value is being on display sexually. Our society has created a culture where sexualisation of young girl is regarded as normal (Tutorial DVD). Jean Kilbourne and Diane Levin, authors of Sexy So Soon, argue: Boys are surrounded by media messages that encourage them to judge their female peers based on how they look, often to view them with contempt, and to expect sexual subservience from them (Burton, L., 2012). An interesting anecdote on the evolution of the women’s liberation movement from feminist Anne Manne reads:
The relationship between women’s liberation and the new sexual freedom was never an uncomplicated one. The two movements have often been in tension. … Jostling alongside welcome signs of women’s new-found status, and a more relaxed, tolerant, open and liberal society on sexual matters, many of the contours of the new sexual liberalism remain shaped by male dominance (as cited by Burton, L, 2012).
Ms Manne (as cited in Butron, L, 2012) goes on to say that “along the way we allowed ‘sexual liberation’ to be dictated to by pornography”. This view appears to be supported by many females reported in our media today. In the research paper Underage and Over- exposed Burton (2012) interviewed a young girl who said,
Look at most girls’ role models. Most celebrities are just out there at parties, getting drunk and having sex with everyone. Paris Hilton – as much as she is a bad role model to us, she is always in the newspapers and stuff like that so younger generations will be influenced by he.
There are also the recent antics of child star Miley Cyrus and her almost pornographic performances at the VMA Music awards in September and her raunchy new film clip for hit single Wrecking Ball.
Symbolic Interaction Theory Symbolic interactionists focus on how communication is central to all human interaction and how these interactions create society (Carl, J & Baker, S, 2011). This theory would view sexting as youth exercising their power to create society. These youth are developing their own standards of what is normal and acceptable behaviour (Carl, J & Baker, S, 2011). Youth consider sexting an adult or media-generated concept (University of New South Wales, 2013, p.1).
Youth do not call this activity sexting, but refer to such behaviour as taking noodz, naked selfies, dirty pics or sexy pics (The University of Melbourne, 2012). However, although this creativity and individualism may be acceptable within subgroups, such as the youth subculture, on a macro level it often conflicts with the norm (The University of Melbourne, 2012). Symbolic Interactionist Chafetz argues that men and woman communicate differently: men tend to dominate conversation and woman follow arbitrary rules that men impose.
She says “Women use body language in ways that weaken their ability to assert themselves, this makes them appear less powerful than their male counterparts” (Chafetz, 1997 as cited in Carl & Hillman, 2011 p. 86). Men and woman often act in a default manner associated with stereotyped gender roles. For example, woman use body language and gestures, or in this case nude images, whereas men tend to be more direct displaying their masculinity by demanding these pictures from their female counterparts (Carl & Hillman, 2011).
Sexting is a good example of the manifestation of how an individual’s definition of gender develops from everyday interactions (Chafetz 1997 as cited in Carl & Hillman, 2011). In today’s society, we are flooded with sexually explicit material and people appear desensitised. Psychologist Andrew Smiler stated
A porn aesthetic pervades culture – in fashion, music, entertainment and behaviour. This is evident in the billboards, music videos and designer stores that shape the desires and imaginations of a younger and younger demographic. It is not just that culture has become more sexualised. It is that the imagery of the pornographic erotic has shaped the sexualisation of culture. (Smiler, A as cited in Burton, L, 2012).
Research conducted by Hewlett Packard found that what is communicated visually has more impact than any other form of communication. Their research supports the idea that visual communication can be more powerful than verbal communication, suggesting in many instances that people learn and retain information that is presented to them visually much better than that which is only provided verbally (Hewlett Parkard, 2004, ₱1).
Sexual images are everywhere, often without words, and are creating a whole new set of community values. These images are encouraging our young people’s sexual exploration and thus reinforcing the behaviour of sexting. Australian Institute researcher Flood stated that the “‘regular and frequent exposure to sexual content in mainstream media produces greater sexual knowledge and more liberal sexual attitudes among children and young people”.
Although the media operate at the macro level their influence permeates through to a micro level, thus influencing the way individuals communicate. Symbolic interaction provides a useful explanation of how the sub-culture of sexting has developed. Effects of Sexting
Social and Emotional
Youth are readily involved in this activity but are naïve as to its consequences. According to Goodings and Everaardt (2010) as cited in of the Parliament of Victoria Law Reform Committee Sexting Inquiry (PVLRCSI)), 2013 the “social ramifications can be the most damaging when it comes to sexting”. The case of Jessica Logan an 18 year old student in America demonstrates the dangers of sexting. The images she sent to her boyfriend were later distributed to hundreds of people and ultimately ended in her suicide (Forde, L. & Hardley, S., 2011).
Although most cases are not as extreme as Jessica’s, the mass distribution of these images is common. There are many other detrimental physiological, emotional and social (Goodings and Everaardt (2010) as cited in the Parliament of Victoria Law Reform Committee Sexting Inquiry (2012). Sexting is a dangerous activity and unfortunately “the viral spread of these images and the associated shame have reportedly led to social, psychological and legal consequences for victims” (Katzman, 2010).
Owing to the rapidity of technological development, practices such as sexting are not adequately covered by Australian law. This is known as ‘cultural lag’(J, Carl, S Baker, Scott, Hillman & Larwrence, 2011). Young people who send and receive sexually explicit images may find themselves in serious trouble under various state and Commonwealth child pornography laws.
One specific piece of legislation is Part 10.6 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995, which makes it “an offence to access, transmit, publish, possess, control, supply or obtain child pornography” (Forde, L. & Hardley, S., 2011). Furthermore in Queensland, those being convicted of child pornography may also be added to the Sex Offenders Register.
Sexting also falls under the category of sexual harassment under S28A of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Forde, L. & Hardley, S, 2011). These laws are designed to protect children from the abuse of adults and many agree that they are ill suited to the issue of youth sexting each other (Forde, L. & Hardley, S, 2011). Those working with children would need to be aware that if they confiscate a data storage device containing such images, or if such images are stored on a school device, material they can also be charged (Forde, L. & Hardley, S, 2011). My Role
As a youth worker I would be involved at a grassroots level in mentoring and supporting of youth involved in this practice. I would also want to be involved in sex education classes. According to experts it is vital to include youth’s opinions and ideas if effective solutions are to be found (Walker. S., Sanci, L. & Temple-Smith, M, 2011, p.8). As a youth worker I need to facilitate this and make sure that youth are given this voice. Christian Youth Work Perspective
Adolescence is a time of life where humans are forming their identity (PBS, 2011, ₱1). Young people are searching for truth, purpose and belonging. Many youth do not have any authority in their life instructing them on how to build and maintain healthy relationships and therefore are more likely to be involved in risky relationships (Burton, L, 2012)
Christian youth workers and chaplains have a great opportunity to be in schools educating youth on topics such as identity, purpose and healthy relationships. As a Christian youth worker I want youth to find their true identity in Christ and that they ultimately belong to him. This truth is the most empowering knowledge any human can have and it answers these questions of identity, truth and purpose. Christian Evaluation
From a Christian perspective the act of sexting would be seen as sexually immoral behaviour and thus frowned upon because it would contain images that would be considered pornographic. There are countless references to such behaviour in the Bible to support this. In 1 Corinthians 6:18 Paul writes; Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.
Therefore honor God with your bodies (NIV). Paul reiterates the sin of sexual immorality in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7; It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable… The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life (NIV). The message version of Ephesians 5:1-4 provides an
excellent example of how healthy relationships are important and without good understanding of them people fall into the trap of immoral behaviour.
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. Don’t allow love to turn into lust, setting off a downhill slide into sexual promiscuity, filthy practices, or bullying greed.
Though some tongues just love the taste of gossip, those who follow Jesus have better uses for language than that. Don’t talk dirty or silly. That kind of talk doesn’t fit our style. Thanksgiving is our dialect. However, it is not the role of Christians to judge the youth involved in this behaviour, but to encourage them to change this behaviour because it is dangerous. The role of Church should be to promote healthy relationships and demonstrate Christ’s love.
A community approach is needed if sexting is to be effectively reduced. Parents and the education system need to work together with the youth in order to tackle this issue (Walker. S., Sanci, L. & Temple-Smith, M, 2011). The problem could be addressed through: 1. Sex education classes that include advice on (a) the development of healthy relationships, (b) the dangers of sexting and (c) sexual morality and self-image (PVLRCSI, 2012, p.8&9) and (Funnell, N, 2012).
2. Providing seminars for guidance officers, counsellors and chaplains in schools to assist them in addressing this issue with their students (PVLRCS, 2012). 3. Incorporating the voice of youth into the attempts to address the issue of sexting (Walker. S., Sanci, L. & Temple-Smith, M, 2011). 4. Schools providing education for parents on the issue of sexting. This should include, (a) the various consequences of sexting, (b) the legal ramifications and (c) how they can impose restrictions on technology more effectively (PVLRCS2012, 2012). 5. Providing a government community service announcement on this issue be, e.g. a television advertisement campaign. 6. Updating the law need to address sexting appropriately.
7. Conducting further research on the topic.
Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). (2010) ‘Trends in media use by children and youth: Insights from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Generation. Retrieved 22 August 2013 from, Burton, L. (2012). Underage and overexposed: Discussing pornography and raunch culture with students. Screen Education, Autumn No. 58, 58-70. Carl, J & Baker, S. (2011). Think Sociology. J.D. Baker, S. Baker, B. Robards, J. Scott, W. Hillman & G. Lawrence (Eds.) (pp.22-23). French Forrest NSW: Pearson Australia. Forde, L . & Hardley, V. (2011). Sexting: The legal implications. The National Education Magazine, June Edition, 56-59. Funnell, N. (2012).
Sexting: Male and female – it’s on for young and old. Teachers Learning Network, 19 (2), 37-39. Hewlett Packard (2004). The power of visual communication [PDF file]. Retrieved 18 September 2013, from http://www.hp.com/large/ipg/assets/bus-solutions/power-of-visual-communication.pdf Katzman, D.K. (2010), ‘Sexting: Keeping teens safe and responsible in a technologically savvy world’. Paediatric Child Health, 15(1), 41-2.
New South Wales (NSW) Government. (2008)Safe sexting: ‘No such thing’ information sheet for parents. Retrieved 23 August 2013 from, http//www.schools.nsw.edu.au.
Parliament of Victoria Law Reform Committee on Sexting Inquiry. (2012). Sexting in Australia: The legal and social ramifications. Retrieved 22 August 2013, from ttp://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/committees/lawrefrom/isexting/subs/S07_-_Salvation_Army_Oasis_Hunter.pdf PBS. (2011). Identity formation. Retrieved 7 September 2013, from http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/topic/adolescence/identity-formation Tankard-Reist, M (Tutorial DVD)
The Society Pages. (2013). Youth, technology and the ‘problem’of sexting [PDF file]. Retrieved 22 August 2013, from http://thesocietypages.org/sociologylens/2013/04/20/young-people-technology-a