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From Media Abstinence to Media Production: Sexting, Young People and Education

Abstract

‘Safe Sexting: There’s No Such Thing’. Or so says a 2009 information brochure produced by the New South Wales (Australia) Department of Education. Just as decades of research demonstrates that abstinence-only sex education is at best ineffective and at worst results in negative health outcomes (Alford 2007), there is no reason to suspect that policies and pedagogies that focus on sexting abstinence will be any more effective. But what are the alternatives? This chapter draws on recent research and pedagogical practice to move away from ‘just say no’ approaches to sexting and toward a contextualized understanding of young people’s media practices. The authors draw on recent research on representations of sexting in mass media, educational campaigns, and the law (Hasinoff 2015); empirical research seeking young people’s responses to ‘sext education’ (Albury et al. 2013); and new media pedagogies (Senft et al. 2014a) to recommend alternative approaches to shame and fear-based sexting education. Throughout, we maintain that an educator’s goal should not be to eliminate sexting practices, but instead to teach young people to promote the same affirmative consent standard for picture sharing that they would for other forms of sexual behavior. In the pages that follow, we offer some new pedagogical practices for teaching these principles, based on student-image production exercises and case study assignments, and drawing on research traditions such as photovoice.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Participatory action researchers in the fields of both health and education have utilized photovoice—a method that invites research participants to create photographs that represent problems in their communities in order to discuss these issues and collectively develop solutions (Wang and Burris 1997). Given that sexual violence and sexual harassment are endemic problems in schools at all levels (American Association of University Women 2001), sex educators could consider using selfies as part of a photovoice technique for addressing gendered and sexual violence in schools. For example, in her research on sexual cultures in schooling, Allen invited school-aged participants to take (non-explicit) photographs that documented their experience of sexuality in school (2009, 2011). As students discussed these pictures, they explored the ways that their school cultures and school rules (e.g. prohibitions against kissing or hugging) created implicit understanding of how sex and gender ‘should’ be performed at school (Allen 2009). Without asking young people to share explicit photos, there is still space for productive conversations about how they use mobile media to produce their own ‘sexy’ images and texts, and the ways in which they might be challenging the sexism of the commercial media industries as well as reproducing it.

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Albury, K., Hasinoff, A.A., Senft, T. (2017). From Media Abstinence to Media Production: Sexting, Young People and Education. In: Allen, L., Rasmussen, M. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Sexuality Education. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-40033-8_26

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-40033-8_26

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