Let’s Talk about Sext

Sexting isn’t going away, so how can we help college students understand how sexting may be harmful, minimize risks and navigate their sexuality.

I was waiting for a flight the other day and noticed almost everyone waiting with me was either looking at a screen or talking on their cellphones. Although I often hear people complain about others focused on their personal electronics, I never hear anyone say they themselves want to be without theirs.

Recently, I returned to my office from an award ceremony at a local university for one of our graduate student interns only to realize I did not have my cellphone with me. I kept looking in my purse, my backpack, my raincoat pocket, the staff lounge, my car — anywhere I had been in the half-hour since I had taken photos of our intern getting his award. I thought, “I know I just looked here but maybe if I look again it will magically appear.” I called campus security, AT&T and Apple Support to no avail.

I began to feel a mild panic as I remembered that within a few hours I would be the administrator on call at Pine Grove’s sexual addiction treatment Gratitude Program. The fact that I had such an emotional response to being without my phone for such a short period of time is concerning, yet this is where I find myself today.

If a 65-year-old woman could come to depend on a device she has only had access to for the past third of her life, how much more can we expect young people to become dependent on theirs given they’ve had these personal electronic devices for their entire lives? Additionally, how much more expert at the use of these devices would they be, and how many more life situations would they be likely to incorporate them into? Why would using their personal electronics, such as desktop and laptop computers and iPads and cellphones, in their sex lives be any different than other aspects of their lives?

Even though sexting has become quite a hot topic lately, I run into people who have never heard of it. Sexting is the term that refers to sending another person sexually explicit material through electronic means. For some who write about it, the definition is narrowed to refer to only photos or videos. For others, it may be restricted to material sent only over cellphones. I use the definition set forth by Jessica Sabbah-Mani from the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, who cited the definition set forth in Miller v. Mitchell: “The practice of sending or posting sexually suggestive text messages and images, including nude or semi-nude photographs, via cellular telephones or over the internet.”

From Furtive Glances to Phone Sex

It is important to begin this discussion by looking at the history of this behavior among various age groups. Communicating sexual feelings between adults of any age has been with us since ancient times with a glance or a gesture as primary forms of communication. In the Appalachian Mountains, couples could go into the woods together as long as the music of their dulcimers, a regional string instrument, could be heard. If the music was audible, no one worried about inappropriate behavior. Of course, couples got very good at doing all sorts of things while continuing to produce music.

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