Sexting – 4 Things You May Not Have Thought About
We live in a digital age of being constantly connected. We snap a picture of the giant piece of pizza we’re about to eat and Instagram it with a cute hashtag before we dig in. Going to a concert? We live-Tweet the experience or Snap our friends snippets of our favorite songs. Getting a haircut or manicure? We text our group-chat pictures each step of the way. We may even ask them to help pick out the manicure color, based on the pics we send. Because it’s second-nature to snap and text a pic of everything, it’s no surprise that approximately 1 in 7 teenagers reports sending sex-texts (sexts) and about 1 in 4 teens report receiving sexts.
So if that many people are doing it, what’s the big deal?
Here are 4 things you may not have thought about sexting, but you might want to consider —
- Once you hit send, you lose all control. You might think you can trust this person now, but people can be fickle. What happens if he gets angry with you tomorrow or next week or next month? Or what if you become unhappy in the relationship and want to break up, but he has these pictures of you that you don’t want just anyone looking at? Even if you Snapchat a picture and assume it will vaporize after the person looks at it, he can screenshot it or use another phone to take a picture of your picture on his screen. Bottom line – once you send the picture to someone else, you’re at that person’s mercy forever.
- Sexts can be used by cyberbullies. Once nude or sexually explicit pictures leave your control, you don’t know how they’ll be used. Someone could use the pictures to bully you or slut-shame you, spreading rumors about you around school – or even spreading the photo around school or posting it to social media. Or someone could try to blackmail you with the pictures, threatening to post it online or show it to others if you don’t do what he or she says. Again – once you hit send, you’re at the mercy of anyone who gets his or her hands on that picture.
- Sexting can open the door for sexual predators. Maybe someone will blackmail you into doing sexual acts to keep the pictures secret. Or maybe someone will post the sext to a porn website. Or maybe someone will sell the image to a child porn collector. Once the picture leaves your control, you just don’t know what will happen or how you could be sexually exploited.
- If you’re under age 18, sexting is probably illegal. Of all the ways sexting could ruin your life, catching child porn charges and having to register as a sex offender is maybe the biggest reason to think twice. Nude or even partially nude pictures of anyone under age 18 constitutes child pornography. The laws are different from state to state, but in some states any person who shares any nude or partially nude images of a minor can be charged with disseminating child porn and anyone who receives those images can be charged with possession of child porn — even if those images are taken and shared with consent or even if that person didn’t ask for the images. Some teens have been charged with disseminating or possessing child porn even if the images were of themselves! These charges could mean fines, strict probation, time in a juvenile detention facility or even jail time, and they could require you to register as a sex offender, which has a whole set of far-reaching consequences of its own (for example, many colleges won’t allow registered sex offenders to enroll in on-campus classes). It could mean having a felony on your record, which affects your job opportunities and whether or not you can vote and where you’re allowed to live. And if you text images to someone in another state, that could mean charges in multiple states. Sexting is a big deal for anyone, but it’s a much bigger deal when anyone involved is under age 18.
So what if someone asks you to send a nude selfie?
This is tough, and it might be really awkward. It could even end a relationship. But you have the right to protect your boundaries. If anyone pressures you to do anything you don’t want to, that is an unhealthy relationship. Ask for help from a trusted friend or adult. You definitely don’t want to do anything illegal and jeopardize your own future.
And what if someone sends you a naked pic? What should you do?
First, understand that if the picture is of someone younger than 18 and if you tell an adult, there will probably be an investigation and the police will probably get involved. So if the picture is from a friend or boyfriend or girlfriend, you might want to delete the picture completely from your phone. Don’t show anyone. Don’t forward the photo. Don’t keep the photo. And tell the person who sent it that you don’t want any more pictures like that because you don’t want to catch any charges. If the person doesn’t respect your boundaries, then you will need to get an adult involved.
If a friend or classmate sends you a nude picture of someone else, then that’s a different story. First, delete the picture completely from your phone. Then, tell the person who sent it that it’s not cool (or legal) to share nude pictures of other people. Then, tell an adult you trust about the incident and that you think someone might be being cyberbullied.
If there is an investigation and anyone asks if you received the images, be honest and explain that you deleted the pictures immediately. Your cell phone records may be requested, but a search of the records and your phone will confirm that you deleted the pictures immediately. If you keep the pictures on your phone and don’t delete immediately, then you have been in possession of child porn and could be charged.
If someone you don’t know or an adult sends you nude pictures, keep the photos on your phone and immediately show an adult you trust. This is harassment and abuse, and you deserve to be protected from it. If you’re being harassed with unwanted text messages, you can block the person from contacting you — but if you’re not 18, be sure to tell an adult as well. You don’t have to handle this on your own.
Remember you lose any control of your privacy once you hit send. Before you share racy photos of yourself or before you receive racy photos of someone else, consider the risks and ask yourself if it’s really worth it.