By Jonathon Van Maren
I travel a lot throughout North America speaking on the pervasiveness of the poisonous porn plague, and when I speak to parents, they are stunned when I read off statistics that highlight just how prevalent sexting is in nearly every single high school. When I speak to students, on the other hand, there is no shock. They look at each other knowingly. Some flush and duck their heads. Others squirm uncomfortably, their smartphones burning a hole in their pocket.
In fact, at a recent high school I was speaking at, I explained to the girls why guys asking them for nude photos or selfies should get immediately dumped, and there were several boys staring at me with open malevolence, furious at what I was saying. The girls, on the other hand, were often nodding emphatically—and of the written questions I collected after the presentation, nearly a dozen were about how to say no to such requests, what to do after sending these pictures, and how to help friends that were terrified that these pictures were being sent on to others.
The truth is that most of these pictures are being sent on, and they are being routinely shared. Boys in high schools right across North America actually have online pages they call “slut pages” where they aggregate photos of the teen girls they go to school with. Teenage relationships, of course, end with great frequency and often much emotional pain—and many teens respond to the pain of breakup by sending intimate photos they have received on to all of their friends. North American high schools today are beginning to resemble a sexual Hunger Games.
And now, even the New York Times has noticed this trend, and rang in the New Year by publishing an extensive analysis of the situation:
Teenagers are drafted into a sexual culture that rests on a harmful premise: On the heterosexual field, boys typically play offense and girls play defense. This problematic framework underlies the findings of a new study that documents, in alarming detail, girls’ reports of the common coercive practices boys use to solicit nude digital photographs. An analysis of nearly 500 accounts from 12- to 18-year-old girls about their negative experiences with sexting found that over two-thirds had been asked for explicit images.
The majority described facing intense pressure that often began with promises of affection and discretion in exchange for “nudes,” before accelerating to “persistent requests, anger displays, harassment and threats.” The study drew from comments posted between 2010 and 2016 on A Thin Line, MTV’s campaign against sexting, cyber bullying and digital dating abuse. As one research participant explained about being pressured by her boyfriend, with the shorthand and spelling errors of a texting teenager:
my bf preaused me for hours to send him pictures of me naked. Now he threarens to send them out if i dont send hin more really nasty pics. The stuff i have to do is unbelievable. im 14.
I’ve heard that exact same story from teen girls, over and over again. One teen told me that the pressure to send pictures was “relentless,” and that the guys simply didn’t stop asking until the girls caved and sent one. If they didn’t send one, the guys would often shift their attention to other girls, creating the impression that sending nude selfies was simply the price one had to pay to gain the attention of the boys. And of course, once the photos are sent, as that awful text above reveals, the power dynamic shifts to the boys and girls often feel trapped. One girl told me that everyone could tell when a photo had been sent around to everyone—when the victim walked into the cafeteria at lunch the next day, all eyes would be on her. The Times cited another text from a girl that revealed the pressure prevalent in high schools:
…they want me to send naked pics of me and I don’t want to send them….but like idk wat to do cuz they said if I don’t send them tht their goinq to spreads roumors and help me out plzzz :((
The advice of the New York Times is simple: “Teenagers, stop asking for nude photos.” It’s about time that the inherent harm and danger of this practice received a more honest appraisal from the mainstream media, especially considering the fact that many girls have already killed themselves after humiliating or intimate photos were sent around to their peers, and there are boys in their teens who are already registered sex offenders for life as the result of such behavior. This practice, in short, is destroying young lives before they even have a chance to mature and understand the types of forces they are playing with. Not even millionaire celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, after all, could keep her intimate photos from being malevolently leaked onto the Internet.
Parents, you need to understand the sexual culture your sons and daughters are facing in high school. I realize that this is hard to believe, but sending nude photos from teen to teen is prevalent—in Christian high schools, as well. I would go so far as to say that it is common in Christian schools, and that one of the reasons this practice has spread so far and so fast is that parents are not even aware that this is taking place—even though their children are making horrifyingly permanent decisions that will impact the rest of their lives.