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Sexting It Up

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Abstract

For children and adolescents in the contemporary moment, the eroticism of technology is intuitive and unremarkable. The growing ubiquity of cell-phone and computer technology makes media crucial for relationships and status among peers. Children and adolescents also seek sexual education and interactions via cyber communication. In this social milieu, the phenomenon of sexting has dominated public discourse and engendered a widespread moral panic of regulation and proselytism. Yet children and teenagers view sexting in terms of intimacy and safe sex; for them, sexted images are avatars affording them liberties otherwise inaccessible to them. I use Julia Kristeva’s notion of abjection to examine the symbolic annihilation of children’s sexuality in most societies and the consequent appeal of the taboo in the sexted image. But I also note the potential harms when sexted images enter public space: the sexuality of children is fraught with danger in the adult world.

Portions of this chapter appeared in “Children’s Technologized Bodies: Mapping Mixed Realities,” in The Routledge International Handbook of Children, Adolescents, and the Media, ed. Dafna Lemish (New York: Routledge, 2013), pp. 156–163. These sections are reprinted with permission.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction (New York: Vintage, 1990), p. 42.

  2. 2.

    Alan Hunt, “The Great Masturbation Panic and the Discourses of Moral Regulation in Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Britain,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 8: 4 (April 1998), 575–615.

  3. 3.

    Carolyn E. Cocca, “From ‘Welfare Queen’ to ‘Exploited Teen’: Welfare Dependency, Statutory Rape, and Moral Panic,” NWSA Journal 14: 2 (Summer 2002), 56–79.

  4. 4.

    Patricia Hill Collins, Black Sexual Politics (New York: Routledge, 2004).

  5. 5.

    Randi Feinstein, Andrea Greenblatt, Lauren Hass, Sally Kohn and Julianne Rana, Justice for All? A Report on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Youth in the New York Area Juvenile Justice System (New York: Urban Justice Center, 2001); and Robb Travers et al. “Service Provider Views on Issues and Needs for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth,” Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality 19: 4 (2010), 191–198.

  6. 6.

    Quotes are taken from focus group data in Amanda Lenhart, “Teens and Sexting: Attitudes toward Sexting,” Pew Internet and American Life Project (December 15, 2009), http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2009/Teens-and-Sexting/Main-Report/3-Attitudes-towards-sexting.aspx

  7. 7.

    Lisa Rathke, “22 Teens Involved in Vt. Texting Ring,” Associated Press (August 18, 2011); Perry A. Zirkel, “All Atwitter About Sexting,” Phi Delta Kappan 91: 2 (October 2009), 76; Jan Hoffman, “A Girls’ Nude Photo, and Altered Lives,” The New York Times (March 27, 2011), p. A1; Stephanie Gaylord Forbes, ‘Sex, Cells, and SORNA: Applying Sex Offender Registration Laws to Sexting Cases,” William and Mary Law Review 52 (April 2011), 1717–1746; “Youth Suicides Linked to Sexting but Trend Rises,” Associated Press (December 4, 2009); Libby Quaid, “Many Young People ‘Sexting,’ Poll Finds,” San Jose Mercury News (December 4, 2009), p. 1A; and “Sexting Overreach,” The Christian Science Monitor (April 28, 2009), p. 8.

  8. 8.

    Adriana de Souza e Silva, “Interfaces of Hybrid Spaces,” in The Cell Phone Reader, eds. Anandam P. Kavoori and Noah Arcenaux (New York: Peter Lang, 2006), p. 31.

  9. 9.

    Mark Hansen, Bodies in Code: Interfaces with Digital Media (New York: Routledge, 2006), p. 6.

  10. 10.

    Ibid., p. 9.

  11. 11.

    See, for example, Bethany L. Blair and Anne C. Fletcher, “‘The Only 13-Year-Old on Planet Earth Without a Cell Phone:’ Meanings of Cell Phones in Early Adolescents’ Everyday Lives,” Journal of Adolescent Research 26: 2 (March 2011), 155–177; Sonia Livingstone and Moira Bovill, Families and the Internet: An Observational Study of Children and Young People’s Internet Use — A Report for BTexact Technologies (London: London School of Economics, 2001); Kaveri Subrahmanyam and David Smahel, “Sexuality on the Internet: Sexual Exploration, Cybersex, and Pornography,” in Digital Youth: The Role of Media in Development, ed. Kaveri Subrahmanyam (New York: Springer Science+Business Media, 2011), pp. 41–57; and Eva Thulin and Bertil Vilhel, “Mobiles Everywhere: Youth, the Mobile Phone, and Changes in Everyday Practice,” Young: Nordic Journal of Youth Research 15: 3 (2007), 235–253.

  12. 12.

    Emma Bond, “The Mobile Phone = Bike Shed? Children, Sex, and Mobile Phones,” New Media and Society 13: 4 (December 2010), 587–604.

  13. 13.

    Daran Cohn, “Teens, Sex and the Internet: A Pilot Study on the Internet and Its Impact on Adolescent Health and Sexuality” (master’s thesis, Drexel University, 2009); Jochen Peter and Patti M. Valkenburg, “Adolescents’ Exposure to Sexually Explicit Online Material and Recreational Attitudes Toward Sex,” Journal of Communication 56 (December 2006), 639–660; Jochen Peter and Patti M. Valkenburg, “Adolescents’ Exposure to Sexually Explicit Internet Material, Sexual Uncertainty, and Attitudes Toward Uncommitted Sexual Exploration: Is There a Link?” Communication Research 35 (October 2008), 579–601; and Sonia Livingstone, “Taking Risky Opportunities in Youthful Content Creation: Teenagers’ Use of Social Networking Sites for Intimacy, Privacy and Self-Expression,” New Media and Society 10: 3 (May 2008), 393–411.

  14. 14.

    Virpi Oksman and Pirjo Rautiainen, “‘Perhaps It Is a Body Part’: How the Mobile Phone Became an Organic Part of the Everyday Lives of Finnish Children and Teenagers,” in Machines That Become Us: The Social Context of Personal Communication Technology, ed. James E. Katz (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2003), p. 307; see also Ribak, who describes the phone as an “umbilical cord” (Rivka Ribak, “Remote Control, Umbilical Cord, and Beyond: The Mobile Phone as a Transitional Object,” British Journal of Developmental Psychology 27: 1 (March 2009), 183–196), and Green and Singleton, whose studies of British youth identify the phone as a “mobile self” (Eileen Green and Carrie Singleton, “Mobile Selves: Gender, Ethnicity and Mobile Phones in the Everyday Lives of Young Pakistani-British Women and Men,” Information, Communication and Society 10: 4 (2007), 505–526).

  15. 15.

    Timothy Binkley, “The Quickening of Galatea: Virtual Creation Without Tools or Media,” Art Journal 49: 3 (Fall 1990), 238.

  16. 16.

    Mark Deuze, “Participation, Remediation, Bricolage: Considering Principal Components of a Digital Culture,” The Information Society 22: 2 (2006), 63–76.

  17. 17.

    See, for example, the discussion in Seung-A Annie Jin, “Parasocial Interaction with an Avatar in Second Life: A Typology of the Self and an Empirical Test of the Mediating Role of Social Presence,” Presence 19: 4 (August 2010), 331–340. Children and teens also see their representations on social media as “authentic” versions of themselves, as indicated in Kerry Mallan, “Look at Me! Look at Me! Self-Representation and Self-Exposure through Online Networks,” Digital Culture and Education 1: 1 (2009), 51–56.

  18. 18.

    Hansen, Bodies in Code, p. 12.

  19. 19.

    National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Sex and Tech: Results from a Survey of Teens and Young Adults (Washington DC: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2008).

  20. 20.

    Jo Ann Oravec, “The Ethics of Sexting,” in Digital Ethics: Research and Practice, ed. Don Heider (New York: Peter Lang, 2012), p. 132.

  21. 21.

    See the discussion by Claire Gresle-Favier, “The Legacy of Abstinence-Only Discourses and the Place of Pleasure in US Discourses on Adolescent Sexuality,” Sex Education 10: 4 (November 2010), 413–422.

  22. 22.

    Decades of research indicate that pornography and other sexually explicit media play a significant role in adolescent development and socialization, for example, Alan S. Berger, William Simon, and John H. Gagnon, “Youth and Pornography in Social Context,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 2: 4 (1973), 279–308; Aletha C. Huston, Ellen Wartella and Edward Donnerstein, Measuring the Effects of Sexual Content in the Media: A Report to the Kaiser Family Foundation (Menlo Park, CA: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 1998) http://www.kff.org/entmedia/1389-content.cfm; Adams, Mark A. “The Practice of Pornography Consumption: A Qualitative Inquiry Into Heterosexual Men’s Perspectives and Experiences” (Ph.D. diss., University of Texas at Austin, 2003); Michael Flood, “Exposure to Pornography Among Youth in Australia,” Journal of Sociology 43: 1 (2007), 45–60; Elisabet Häggström-Nordin, Tanja Tydén, Ulf Hanson and Margareta Larsson, “Experiences of and Attitudes Towards Pornography Among a Group of Swedish High School Students,” European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care 14: 4 (December 2009), 277–284; Amy Bleakley, Michael Hennessey and Martin Fishbein, “A Model of Adolescents’ Seeking of Sexual Content in Their Media Choices,” Journal of Sex Research 48: 4 (July/August 2011), 309–315.

  23. 23.

    Jason S. Carroll et al., “Generation XXX: Pornography Acceptance and Use Among Emerging Adults,” Journal of Adolescent Research 23: 1 (January 2008), 6–30.

  24. 24.

    Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women (New York: Anchor Books, 1992), p. 148.

  25. 25.

    Lyn Mikel Brown, Sharon Lamb, and Mike Tappan, Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Boys from Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2009), p. 248.

  26. 26.

    Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (Detroit: Black and Red, 1983).

  27. 27.

    L. Monique Ward, “Understanding the Role of Entertainment Media in the Sexual Socialization of American Youth: A Review of Empirical Research,” Developmental Review 23: 3 (September 2003), 347–388.

  28. 28.

    Andrew Mendelson and Zizi Paparacharissi, “Look at Us: Collective Narcissism in College Student Facebook Photo Galleries,” in A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites, ed. Zizi Papacharissi (New York: Routledge 2010), p. 263.

  29. 29.

    Sanja Kapidzic and Susan C. Herring, “Gender, Communication, and Self-Presentation in Teen Chatrooms Revisited: Have Patterns Changed?” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 17 (2011), 39–59.

  30. 30.

    Teresa de Lauretis, “The Technology of Gender,” in Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1987), p. 5.

  31. 31.

    Sean Nixon, “Exhibiting Masculinity,” in Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, ed. Stuart Hall (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1997), p. 323.

  32. 32.

    Laura M. Beals, “Content Creation in Virtual Worlds to Support Adolescent Identity Development,” New Directions for Youth Development 128 (Winter 2010), 45–53.

  33. 33.

    James Paul Gee, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Language and Literacy (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).

  34. 34.

    Zach Waggoner, My Avatar, My Self (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009), p. 162.

  35. 35.

    Don Heider, “Identity and Reality: What Does It Mean to Live Virtually?” in Living Virtually: Researching New Worlds, ed. Don Heider (New York: Peter Lang, 2009), p. 135.

  36. 36.

    Bob Rehak, “Playing at Being: Psychoanalysis and the Avatar,” in The Video Game Theory Reader, ed. Mark J.P. Wolfe and Bernard Perron (New York: Routledge, 2003), pp. 103–127.

  37. 37.

    Ibid., p. 123.

  38. 38.

    Ibid., p. 122.

  39. 39.

    Elizabth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1994), p. 39.

  40. 40.

    Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytical Experience,” in Ecrits, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W.W. Norton, 1966), pp. 75–81.

  41. 41.

    Elizabeth Grosz, Jacques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction (New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 43.

  42. 42.

    Diana Fuss, Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature, and Difference (New York: Routledge, 1989), p. 104.

  43. 43.

    Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “The Child’s Relation with Others,” in The Primacy of Perception, ed. J. Edie, trans. W. Cobb (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964), pp. 96–155.

  44. 44.

    Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), p. 4.

  45. 45.

    Ibid., p. 12.

  46. 46.

    Ibid., p. 18.

  47. 47.

    Ibid., p. 5.

  48. 48.

    Ibid., p. 12.

  49. 49.

    Michelle Fine and Sarah I. McClelland, “Sexuality Education and Desire: Still Missing After All These Years,” Harvard Educational Review 76: 3 (2006), 299.

  50. 50.

    George Rousseau, Children and Sexuality: From the Greeks to the Great War (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), p. 3.

  51. 51.

    Catherine Driscoll, Girls: Feminine Adolescence in Popular Culture and Cultural Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), pp. 140–141.

  52. 52.

    Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993), pp. 3.

  53. 53.

    C.J. Pascoe, “Resource and Risk: Youth Sexuality and New Media Use,” Sexuality Research and Social Policy 8: 1 (2011), 5–17.

  54. 54.

    Kaveri Subrahmanyanm, Patricia M. Greenfield, and Brendesha Tynes, “Constructing Sexuality and Identity in an Online Teen Chat Room,” Applied Developmental Psychology 25 (2004), 651–666.

  55. 55.

    Bradley J. Bond, “Out Online: The Content of Gay Teen Chat Rooms,” Ohio Communication Journal 47 (2009), 233–245.

  56. 56.

    Jami Jones, “Beyond the Straight and Narrow,” School Library Journal 50: 5 (May 2004), 45.

  57. 57.

    Pascoe, Resource and Risk, p. 9.

  58. 58.

    Niels van Doorn, “The Ties That Bind: The Networked Performance of Gender, Sexuality and Friendship on MySpace,” New Media and Society 12: 4 (2010), 583–602.

  59. 59.

    danah boyd, “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life,” in Youth, Identity, and Digital Media, ed. David Buckingham (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), pp. 119–142.

  60. 60.

    van Doorn, ibid., p. 598.

  61. 61.

    Roger Saul, “KevJumba and the Adolescence of Youtube,” Educational Studies 46 (2010), 457–477.

  62. 62.

    Ibid., pp. 466–468.

  63. 63.

    boyd, “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites.”

  64. 64.

    Morná Ní Chonchúir and John McCarthy, “The Enchanting Potential of Technology: A Dialogic Case Study of Enchantment and the Internet,” Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 12 (2008), 401–409.

  65. 65.

    Kristeva, Powers of Horror, p. 66.

  66. 66.

    Jannis Kallinikos, “Reopening the Black Box of Technology Artifacts and Human Agency” (paper, International Conference on Information Systems, Barcelona, December 2002).

  67. 67.

    Kristeva, Powers of Horror, p. 67.

  68. 68.

    Butler, Bodies That Matter, p. 2.

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Durham, M.G. (2016). Sexting It Up. In: Technosex. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28142-1_3

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