I’m trying to develop a typology of sexting that highlights consent. Many people don’t bring consent into sexting at all, just assuming instead that sexting is always nonconsensual. I’ve seen some legal scholars stress forwarding without permission by distinguishing between “primary” and “secondary” sexting (Ryan, 2010), or between “self-sexting” and “downstream sexting” (Calvert et al., 2010), but none of these capture the issue of consent at every level of sexting.

Wolak and Finkelhor’s model (below) is specific to youth (and to some assumptions about youth sexuality), since in their framework consensual sexting fits into the category “experimental.” Calling it “experimental” might help convince prosecutors that they shouldn’t charge those youth with child pornogarphy offenses, but it seems to me like a limited way of understanding consensual sexting.

Wolak and Finkelhor, 2011

This model I am working on in the table below is age-neutral. My definition of “consensual sexting” is that the production, distribution, and reception of the image are all consensual. “Abusive sexting” occurs when the production, distribution, and/or reception of the image is non-consensual. For example, an image could be produced consensually and then distributed without permission–in this case this is abusive sexting at the level of distribution.

Aspect Consent Examples
production consensual – taking a sexual photo of oneself

– willingly and knowingly appearing in a sexual photo that someone else creates

nonconsensual – photographing nudity or a sex act without the knowledge of one or more of the people depicted in the image

– coercing someone to appear nude, pose sexually, or perform sexual acts on camera

distribution consensual – sending a sexual image of oneself to one or more people

– posting a sexual image of oneself on a public website

nonconsensual – using a cell phone to forward a sexual image (without the permission of the person depicted) to one or more people

– posting a private sexual image of someone on a public website without permission

– knowingly hosting a private sexual image of someone on a website

reception consensual – sending a sexual image to someone who requested it
nonconsensual – sending a sexual image to a person who does not want to see that image

I’d love to hear comments about this new model.

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