I’ve recently updated some of my sexting tips pages:
Please let me know if you have questions or suggestions for sexting-related resources.
Non-consensually recorded and non-consensually posted pictures and video of people in sexual situations may be frequently called “revenge porn,” but they are very different from the way the actual porn industry operates. I perform in commercial porn with high production values, porn in which stacks of paperwork — including model releases and 2257 compliance documentation — confirm the age, identity, and legal consent of the performers to both the recording and distribution of the resulting product.
Professional adult entertainment, though often maligned and defined by its worst iterations — like the dramatized biographies based on the stories of Linda Lovelace and Traci Lords — is largely an industry where consent is absolutely necessary. This is not to say that it is a utopia full of sunshine and vulva daisies — it isn’t — but it most certainly requires consent, consent that may be given based on a variety of reasons, from the desire to indulge an exhibitionistic streak to calculations that balance the pressures of economic necessity against willingness to work in a stigmatized and sometimes risky field.
I like her idea to hold websites that host nonconsensual sexual images to the same standard that the law holds for consensual, legal pornography:
It’s terrible to see women who don’t wish to be seen naked in public forced into navigating the stigma associated with visible, public record of their sexuality. And I’m happy to see Twitter and Reddit finally taking steps to curtail this violation of privacy. But I think executives at these companies can do a little better than just allowing users to report violations of their updated terms of service: They should require proof of consent before a nude image is posted, period.
A new study finds that sending, receiving, or asking for a sext is significantly correlated with pornography use. The researchers conclude:
Not only does our research enable a deeper understanding of adolescent sexting behavior, it also extends the literature on the effects of pornography and music video viewing. … Our study [shows] that pornography use is not only associated with adolescents’ offline sexual behaviors but that it is also linked with a virtual form of sexual experimentation (i.e., sexting). (p.5)
The correlation they found may indeed indicate that viewing pornography causes sexting, as they imply in their conclusion. However, there is also another possible explanation: People who like looking at commercially produced sexual images also like looking at privately produced sexual images.
“We need to shift discourse away from discussing sexual and suggestive photos as inappropriate and abnormal, and rather focus on the inappropriate acts of sharing. This not only places blame back where it belongs – on those violating privacy – but also moves away from discourse that demonizes expressions of sexuality; instead we ought to approach sexually suggestive and explicit pictures as part of normal sexual expression, exploration, and intimacy.”
— Jacqueline Ryan Vickery, “Oh Snap! Stop Shaming the Sext“
There’s a new story about cops trading sexts they’ve stolen from the cell phones of women who have been in traffic accidents. Given the prevalence of sexual violence committed by law enforcement and within the prison system, it is disappointing, but sadly not surprising, to hear this news.
Another disturbing case of a teen’s sexual assault that was recorded, distributed, and the victim-shaming that followed. What would it take to move from a culture of victim-blaming to perpetrator-shaming? Of course, we are happy to ostracize sex offenders when we can see them as deviant strangers, as we do with sex offender registries, and that’s not productive. But when it’s an acquaintance, a boyfriends, a fellow partygoer, we pivot 180 degrees and blame the victim. There has to be a way to change this, so that when people learn about–or even see–a rape, the default, common reaction is to criticize the rapist, not the victim. Not to see him as a monster, but to see that he harmed someone and did a bad thing. It sounds pretty simple, and yet, it’s not happening.
In these moments, I am reminded of Sarah Projansky’s work on the ubiquity of representations of rape in film and popular culture. And I think this helps us understand that these incidents, like Steubenville, are not about teenagers or social media. The ideas about rape they demonstrate are absolutely endemic to our culture. The question is: how do we burn those ideas down?
The fact that Jada, the 16-year-old victim in this case is speaking publicly is astounding. Her bravery, confidence, and clarity about what happened to her is the only encouraging thing about this terrible incident. She says:
I had no control. I didn’t tell anyone to take my clothes off and do what they did to me. … I’m just angry.
If everyone thought about rape as Jada explains it here, we’d be a long way towards solving this problem. She shouldn’t have to explain these things to us. She shouldn’t have to be brave. But we should all be angry. (edited)
Update: Important analysis from Robin Boylorn at CFC about the complications of celebrating Jada’s bravery:
While I join others in supporting and celebrating Jada’s bravery I worry that being proud of her stoicism is an improper response to the trauma she has experienced. Jada is 16 years old and not only has she been raped, but publicly exposed, outed, mocked, teased and threatened. Rape victims are usually afforded privacy and time in which to process the trauma. Jada, however, has been put in a public spotlight and interrogated about an event with consequences that far exceed the immediate backlash and immaturity of peers. Perhaps instead of being proud of her for being strong we should let her be visibly devastated, distraught, shocked, and inconsolable. Maybe instead of being impressed that blackgirls can withstand so much suffering and become role models for strength, we should be concerned about their emotional wellness, their vulnerability, their humanity.
… The problem with blackgirl strength is that it never lets up. Blackgirls don’t have the luxury of a time out or a break to breathe. The problem with blackgirl strength is that our very lives are stake and if we don’t learn to mask our pain we won’t know how to survive. The problem with blackgirl strength is that practice makes perfect and after while we have that strength, no pain, never let ‘em see you sweat ish down pat. The problem with blackgirl strength is that it doesn’t offer protection. The problem with blackgirl strength is that nobody ever tells us we don’t have to be strong and we don’t know how not to be. That is a problem.
Arizona just passed a new felony law addressing sexting privacy violations.
What does it get right?
So what’s the problem?
In a private study released last month, 24 percent of people 50-75 years old said they’d sent an intimate photo or text message to someone. No data was collected on postcards.
In the past few months, there’s been a lot of media attention to girls who’ve died by suicide after being raped in public settings (eg. at parties) by multiple assailants, shamed and humiliated by peers, and failed by the adults in schools and justice departments who should have supported them. Audrie Pott was 15 when she took her own life and Rehtaeh Parsons was 17 years old. Parsons’ father wrote in a public statement:
My daughter wasn’t bullied to death, she was disappointed to death. Disappointed in people she thought she could trust, her school, and the police.
Some of the media coverage makes these tragedies seem like technology problems, and in all these cases digital photographs and distribution indeed heightened the slut-shaming both girls experienced. When tragedies like this happen in other parts of the world, people often blame a misogynistic culture that is supposedly uniquely terrible “over there.” When it happens here, it’s much easier to blame technology.
These are not the first, nor will they be the last girls to commit suicide after being raped and then slut-shamed for it. It’s well established in the literature that suicide attempts are strongly correlated with child sexual abuse. These particular cases get so much attention because of the heightened shaming these girls experienced through social media. What’s genuinely new in these cases is not the slut-shaming from peers but the fact that the rest of us can see it. The evidence that is left behind when people socialize online makes once-private locker-room talk and whispers in the hallway public and visible to adults.
My hope is that youth educators and parents who are shocked by what Pott and Parsons’ peers said about them online can understand that what these girls experienced was not an exception but merely a highly visible (and, I hope, extreme?) version of what happens to survivors of rape all the time. Social media lets us see slut-shaming and rape culture in the light of day, but when we talk about these cases we have to recognize that these attitudes are not unique to teens or to a few bad people–they are absolutely endemic in (adult) mainstream culture.
update: Beth Lyons has a great post at Shameless about how the media have been reporting Parsons as a victim of “bullying”–which is really, really the wrong word for what happened to her.