Americans Are Sexting More Than Ever but Exploiting One Another Less

What Women Really Think
Feb. 11 2014 1:32 PM

Americans Are Sexting More Than Ever but Exploiting One Another Less

woman_sexting
For her eyes only.

Photo by Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

America is getting sextier: According to a report released today by the Pew Research Center, 9 percent of Americans with cellphones have used them to send a “sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude” photo or video, while 20 percent of cellphone owners have received a similar type of image. (Apparently some sexters are more prolific than others.) That’s a jump from 2012, when only 6 percent of cellphone owners had sexted and 15 percent had received. Although Americans are consuming more crotch shots than ever, we’ve seen no similar uptick in the number of people who are sexting nonconsensually. According to Pew, 6 percent of cellphone users have forwarded a sext to a third party, the same percentage that had done so in 2012. 

Could we be entering an era where using technology for titillation doesn’t mean opening ourselves up to exploitation? In 2003, New Jersey made it a felony to distribute sexual photos of another person without his or her permission, but it took a decade for the campaign against nonconsensual pornography to begin to gain traction around the world. Last year, California made forwarding a sext without consent a misdemeanor crime. Steubenville, Ohio, football player Trent Mays was convicted in juvenile court of raping a 16-year-old girl but also of distributing images of the assault after the fact; his text messaging doubled his sentence from one year to two. Just last month, American revenge-porn king Hunter Moore was busted by the feds for allegedly hacking into email accounts to steal sexual photos, and Israeli legislators passed a bill banning the dissemination of sexualized images without the subject’s explicit consent. There, distributors now face five years in prison.

Advertisement

It used to be that revenge porn’s unwitting stars were reflexively blamed for being exposed against their will. In 2010, Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote: “If you are actually dumb enough to make a sex tape and think it won’t get leaked, you are too dumb to ever have sex again.” But in recent years, the law has stepped in to make the distribution of nonconsensual sexual material an even dumber move than the consensual production of it, which is just how it should be. And looking at Pew’s new numbers—which show that at least 44 percent of 18-to-24-year-old Americans participate in sexting—it’s increasingly clear that dialing up sexual experiences doesn’t come with the expectation that those experiences will migrate to a group text. Most people who receive sexts don’t share them with the class, and it’s not stupid to expect your sexting partners to keep your privates private. It’s simply humane.

According to the published script of Pew’s telephone questionnaire, interviewers were instructed to leave the awkward sext question for the end of the discussion. Before getting to that, Pew also asked online Americans whether the Internet has had a “major” or “minor” impact on their intimate relationships, and most responded that it hasn’t had an effect at all. That may seem like an understatement, but I’m hoping it means that most people agree that our online connections should be held to the same standard as our offline lives—where sex is fine, as long as all partners are willing.

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Yes, Black Families Tend to Spank More. That Doesn’t Mean It’s Good for Black Kids.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

Politics

The GOP’s Focus on Fake Problems

Why candidates like Scott Walker are building campaigns on drug tests for the poor and voter ID laws.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Iran and the U.S. Are Allies Against ISIS but Aren’t Ready to Admit It Yet

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 16 2014 4:08 PM More Than Scottish Pride Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 5:07 PM One Comedy Group Has the Perfect Idea for Ken Burns’ Next Project
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 1:48 PM Why We Need a Federal Robotics Commission
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.