I’ve been asked a number of times in recent months what I think about sexting. So finally: my long-awaited response!
There’s two different kinds of “sexting” that need to be addressed, and the issues are so substantially different that they need two separate conversations. So today I’m going to address text-only texts, e-mails, and other electronic communication. Tomorrow I’ll weigh in again on pictures, movies, and image-based electronic sexual communications in general.
Communicating via text, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or any other electronic means has its benefits and its pitfalls. In general, adults tend to focus on the negative when it comes to assessing adolescent relationships without allowing for the balance of the positive. This tends to be true regardless of what aspect of the relationship is being discussed, so it’s no great surprise that it’s true about communication methods too.
Here are some concerns that some adults have about teenagers communicating about their relationship and their sexuality via electronic means:
· It is easy for teenagers to move more quickly online or via text than they would in person.
· Teenagers can’t see or “read” their partner’s vocal cues or body language to put what they are saying in context.
· When someone is not having a conversation face-to-face, it is easier to imagine a kind of anonymity, which can lead to saying hurtful things because they are physically distanced from the other half of the conversation.
There are , of course, many other concerns, but these seem to be the ones that parents repeat the most often to me. And they are absolutely all true, good places for someone who is communicating via electronic means to be concerned about regardless of the topic of conversation, sexual or relationship or otherwise.
Here are some ways that electronic communication can be good for adolescent relationships:
· It forces communication. In person teenagers can cover an awkward silence or an evident lack of personal connection with sexual activity. Not so with electronic communication.
· No STD or pregnancy protection required, the physical distance supplies it in great quantities.
· When a situation becomes too intense one person can step back, take a moment, and think before responding in a way that can’t happen as easily in face-to-face interactions.
As with the pitfalls, there are other potential benefits, these are just the few that jump to mind immediately.
So there are both good and bad aspects to electronic relational and sexual communication – as there are both upsides and downsides to every form of communication. As adults we may be particularly uncomfortable with electronic communication because we haven’t grown up using it. But this is a generational issue that is not new. When telephones were first becoming common, the older generation was horrified that the young people were using phones as a part of courtship. Texting, etc, is our generation’s telephone. It can be used in good ways or bad, but at the end of the day it has it’s benefits and we need to acknowledge that.
Tomorrow I’ll leap into a discussion of that much-more-issue-leaden-water of images. The legal issues are highly problematic, particularly because many teenagers are unaware of them.