In many ways we are still charting unknown territory when it comes to our cultural feelings about sexting. From a harmless adult past time to criminal cases of child pornography public sentiment has run the gamut on this hot button topic and in light of the recent Anthony Weiner scandal it’s probably not going to end anytime soon. Long before the internet and cell phones humans have found ways to flirt and express sexual interest in one another but in an age of viral videos and hacked Facebook accounts keeping your private life private just isn’t as easy as it used to be.
Sexting by the Numbers
While most of us worry about our children and teenagers sharing sexually explicit texts and emails it turn out that it’s the 18-29 year old crowd that engages in sexting the most. According to research done by the Pew Research Centers Internet and American Life Project 17% of all 30-49 year olds reported receiving suggestive or nude photos via text or email compared to 33% of 18-29 year olds and 15% of adolescents. Of all those polled only 5%, 13% and 4% respectively admitted to actually having sent them to someone.
There’s no denying we live in a digital age; emails and Skype have replaced letters and phone calls so it only makes sense that many of our love lives play out online. Websites like eHarmony and match.com continue to grow in popularity every year and Facebook has become the standard way to seek out old acquaintances and stay up to date on our friend’s lives. With all this connecting online are we really so surprised that occasionally two consenting people take their chats to the next level. I think we are really looking at two issues here; the first being that what used to be very private interactions between two people now has the capability of being viewed by millions of people around the world and once released there is no taking it back. This is the issue that makes underage texting so dangerous. What may seem innocent at first can quickly become a photo posted online or texted to every person in school. This can not only ruin young lives but it can also result in very serious criminal charges. The second issue, especially in the case of Anthony Weiner, is not so much that he was a sexually active congressman but rather how men in power present one face to us in their political life and then turn out to be so radically different in their personal lives. We feel like we’ve had the wool pulled over our eyes and we don’t like it. We tell our children and friends to be careful about what they post on the internet and then here comes someone who is supposed to be a family man and a professional engaging in less responsible behavior than your average teenager. To make matters worse once busted, in true politician style, we had to endure ten days of lies and denial before we got the obligatory tears and apology. I think ultimately we don’t care whether he tweeted pictures or just got caught in a hotel with his pants down we’re just tired of allowing powerful men to get away with bad behavior.
So what’s the bottom line? I think most of us believe that using suggestive emails or texts with your significant other is just a normal part of our modern lives, it makes us feel connected and it keeps a relationship fresh and exciting but let cases like “Weinergate” serve as a warning before you tweet it, text it, mail it or “like” it just remember that once you hit send there is no taking it back and no guarantee that only your intended will see it.