The media plays a large role in the negative reputation of sexting has among older generations according to a researcher at the DCU Anti-Bullying Centre.
Dr. Mairéad Foody is currently conducting a pilot study involving 500 students aged 15 to 18 on sexting practices and popularity. Sexting is defined as sending sexually suggestive or explicit photographs, videos, or messages via mobile phone, social networks, apps or other technologies.
The DCU researcher said for something that has such a negative connotation from older generations, sexting is actually quite a normal and expectant phenomenon for an adolescent.
“[Sexting] fits in with the profile of an adolescent, where they are exploring their sexuality, they are exploring partners or potential partners, and they’re also spending a lot of time online and a lot of their social networks are completely online,” said Dr. Foody.
The prevalence of online relationships and research that shows most adolescent sexters are sending such content to a boyfriend or girlfriend that have consented to the sending or receiving of sexts can be overshadowed by heavily-reported cases where sexting really damaged someone according to Dr. Foody.
“Very often [older generations] assume that sexting goes hand in hand with some of the other very scary cases we see in the media, for example when someone exploits a young person online, or are grooming them online so they can send photos that would be categorized as child pornography,” said Dr. Foody.
“There is a big difference between a 14 or 15 year old boy and girl that are courting or in a relationship as opposed to an old man asking nine year olds for pictures of themselves,” said Dr. Foody.
At the moment, The Child and Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998 states that the creation, sharing, or receiving of a sexually explicit image is illegal, but strict regulation and consequences to this law can have its flaws warned Dr. Foody. She said the regulation can work to a certain point, but will also might scare young people into not talking about the subject.
“You could probably regulate for things like consent, and we could probably penalize people who have done something without consent, but we can’t really penalize the sharing of images between two people only if it’s part of a relationship, well I mean we can, but I don’t understand how that would be productive in any way,” said Dr. Foody.
Dr. Foody said schools should create more awareness about the topic, without scaring teens into not talking about it, through digital citizen modules that will give students an understanding of privacy settings, digital responsibility and consent paired with freedom of expression and voice.
Image Credit: Daria Jonkisz