Clandestine conversation and flirting with the forbidden are the meat and potatoes of adolescence. But unlike notes passed in the classroom, or even obscene phone calls, sexting has the added risk of becoming very, very public.
When this happens, which seems to be disturbingly often, lives are forever changed. And those lives are disproportionately the lives of girls. Young girls' participation in even mutual revealing exchanges has the power to ruin reputations in a very long term, very old school way, marking them with the record of their indiscretions.
Here's why girls are so much more vulnerable:
1. Sexting is a mating dance. Girls get that their bodies are commodities. They imitate porn, or the imitations of porn they see in men's magazines, with revealing photos - the 21st century version of a flash of leg under the table. Boys see men posturing, too, but it's not quite the same. The man's role in this stereotypical dynamic is to watch the show, not to be it. Which isn't to say boys don't send naked pictures of themselves to girls' cell phones. They do. (Some girls say they won't send a picture out without getting one first.) The difference is what happens once the pictures are received.
2. A girl who gets a picture of a boy may share it with friends in person, but she's unlikely to forward it on. Even if she does, it probably won't travel all that far, for one simple reason: how many teenage boys are comfortable passing on photos of other naked teenage boys? Pictures of naked girls, on the other hand, have been currency among teenage boys for most of history. And pictures of real live naked girls ratchet the stakes up that much higher. Because not only does the photo carry the erotic charge, it carries the power of shame.
3. When girls' sexted photos go viral, the girl is almost always branded a slut. A boy who's caught in the act might be thought of as stupid, but his morality is not called into question. What sexual revolution?
Passing on girls' naked photos - clearly intended for intimate eyes, but released into the ether thanks to some momentary lapse in character (pride? hostility?) - is an act somewhere between porn trafficking and bullying, and probably produces the same guilty thrills. But the problem, too, is how easy it is. Like all these online opportunities for socially irresponsible behavior, forwarding an illicit sext gives a teen the gratification of doing something "bad" without having to take ownership or risk confrontation.
To learn how we can protect our girls from the risks of sexting, visit Babble.
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