I Wanna Sext You Up
Posted by Mel Campbell on July 10, 2008
You learn something new every day, don’t you? Today, I learned the ‘word’ “sexting”. I also had to wonder whether the Fairfax press’s clammy excitement over this tawdry teen fad was just sublimated chortling at that awesome portmanteau word.
Last year I had a brief sextual liaison with a chap who lives in another city, and we managed to text each other in complete sentences, without the use of pictures. But I realise now that this is unusual sextual activity – kind of kinky even, like fucking while blindfolded – because The Age would have us believe that:
a) only teenagers sext, whereas adults are “blind to the trend”;
b) sexting is always a form of cyber-bullying, aimed to coerce and humiliate
c) only females ever circulate sexually explicit images of themselves by phone, so this is only a problem for them
Okay, let’s go through these one by one. First of all, this wimpy generationalism gives me the absolute shits. It doesn’t actually reflect who is doing this or who actually understands the current capabilities of mobile telephony. The way this article is written, teenagers are simultaneously precocious techno-sluts and vulnerable babes in the woods who need to wise up about what their magical phones can do. Added to the preposterous suggestion that only teenagers sext is the ‘logical’ next step that it is child porn. What if teenagers get prosecuted for sexting with people their own age? Doesn’t child porn only come into existence when a photo aims to represent in a titillating way a taboo age discrepancy between subject and viewer?
On point b), I don’t want to trivialise media-assisted bullying at all, because it’s real and possibly more merciless than face-to-face bullying because there’s less identification with the victim. People’s photos have and probably continue to be circulated and commented upon in ways they never intended, that might cause great embarrassment. But the article’s main contention is that girls are being pressured into sending sexually explicit pics of themselves to guys they like. “Girls feel like they can’t get attention without putting themselves out there like that,” say a random bunch of 15-year-olds interviewed for the article. Flinders Street Station/Town Hall Steps reporting at its finest!
There is no mention of the pleasure that sexting might give the sender as well as the receiver. Of course, this is the part that I struggle with as a feminist, because I disagree vehemently with the ‘raunch’ notion that women’s own sexual pleasure should come from turning themselves into a sexualised spectacle for the consumption of others. But let’s let that roll for now. Back in 2006 (holy shit, was it really that long ago?), I wrote in the SMH that more and more, images are becoming the way we create and archive our ‘special moments’, and people even get a pleasurable sense of self from their public visibility, their accessibility through images. When we send pictures of ourselves to our friends or lovers, or post them to MySpazz, Flickr, Facebook, etc, there’s a certain pleasurable tension between public and private: a frisson of putting yourself out there on display and abdicating control over the way you’re represented. It could be naivete… or it could be an eroticised form of trust.
That’s why I wrote in my original article that sexting demands an ethical responsibility on the part of the recipient of the images. Surely this is the kind of ethics that sex education classes can teach: “Basic Rules For Respecting Partners 101: Dont Fwd Thier N00dz!” But getting to point c), this moral panic is not about women receiving and circulating nude pics, is it? Nor is it about recipients taking responsibility for the images. Instead, the only solution appears to be, “We’ve got to stop these poor vulnerable girls from feeling as though they need to send these pictures.” It reminds me of the way the US abstinence movement puts the onus of sexual self-control on women rather than men (except for creepy rituals that treat the woman’s sexuality as an object of exchange between fathers and husbands).