Sexting, oh sexting.

cellphoneI’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.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. Well put. The issue of sexting can be complex especially as the forms of electronic communication become more varied. We are seeing the impact socially, ethically, legally, psycologically, and technolocially.

  2. […] Yesterday I wrote about sexting, in the original, text-based sense.  Today I get into those terribly troubled waters when teenagers send sexual images – either stills or video – of themselves. […]

  3. […] here’s my overview from last Thursday and Friday’s conversation on […]

  4. The whole issue of unwanted pregnancies would completely disappear if so called adults would grow up and be honest with themselves and their children, about the realities of life.

    All parents have to do, once they find the courage to be honest with their children about sex, is teach their children, if they’re going to have sex, to at least have responsible, consensual sex.

    They can add to that, it would be best to avoid it for as long as possible, but if you arm them well with responsible information, the problems associated with it, should they indulge, will be minimal.

    Tell them they must use a condom for their health and safety and preferably some other form of prevention combined with the condom, to ensure they do not bring any children into this world, without the benefit of two loving parents, who are themselves ready for the responsibilities and considerations that go with parenting and living with someone else, and the finances to support such actions.

    All parents know they or others, either wanted or tried and even succeeded in having sex, far earlier than the law allows, so why not admit these things to your children, so they don’t get left feeling like some kind of evil weirdo’s?

    Children do not ask to be brought into this world, so if people are going to have sex, they need to be sure they can provide every opportunity for that child, otherwise they must use prevention, or go without.

    To bring a child into this world who is disadvantaged in any way, is the most heinous crime any person can commit.

    Life for that child will never be like it is for a child who lives in a happy, financially secure, unconditionally loving and accepting environment. It will always have to struggle, compromise and go without almost everything others just take for granted.

    Anyone who wants that kind of life for a child, in my opinion, must hate children, and so in fact, is a child abuser.

    This whole subject is that simple, yet in this so called enlightened day and age, there are still parents too immature and gutless to have such a conversation with their children.

    These ignorant, avoiding, in denial people, who hide behind all kinds of religious and cultural excuses to avoid their responsibilities, are the real cause of unwanted children, not the young people who have sex when they’re way too inexperienced to fully understand the consequences.

    If all children had honest parents, there wouldn’t be so much hoo haa about post puberty kids banging away to their hearts content, because they’d be doing it in a responsible manner, and no one would get hurt.

    The more it’s made a taboo, the more it’s not discussed openly in a happy, accepting, and natural way, the more people will want it, and sadly the less responsibly these things will occur.

    This whole world is terrified of RESPONSIBILITY, which is why it cowardly employs, shame, blame, and excuses.

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