Is sexting for teenagers normal? Should sexting be taught as a part of sexual education in school? These are the latest questions posed to me during an interview on FOX News Channel’s The Ingraham Angle. This blog article further explores the topic, post the interview.
Is sexting normal for teenagers?
The answer is yes. I am not here to pass judgment as to whether a parent should teach any form of sexual expression as unacceptable or acceptable, and that their teenager must abstain from sexual touch and sexual communication, or to the contrary. That is a parenting and family decision. The focus of this blog rather is to respond to the reality that is going on in our culture for the teenagers of whom sexual expression via the form of touch and/or verbal erotic chat is acceptable in their family. For those children, yes, sexting is normal.
As I provide insight as to the reality of what is happening in America in the world of many teens, know this, many teenagers sext. This is a fact. The Journal of The American Medical Association (JAMA) reports that one in seven teens report they are sending sexts and one in four are receiving sexts. This has left some parents mortified and others confused as to what to do about it if anything. And has left other parents nodding in understanding that it makes sense. The media has responded by bringing in experts of varied schools of thought to share their perspective. On FOX News Channel’s The Ingraham Angle, I weighed in on this topic through the lens of my understanding of teenagers, in my work with them. I was unfiltered and presented the reality. Of course during a TV interview, and in a debate format in particular, there is a brief block of time to make comprehensive points. As such I wanted to take some time out to follow up with this blog to further address the topic.
The reality of the world of many American teenagers:
Point #1 Parents are giving their teenagers phones.
Point #2 Teenagers are sexually curious with sexually erotic thoughts and physiological desires.
Point # 3 The smartphone has become the #1 vessel that teenagers use to connect and interact with others when not in the same room as the person one is interacting with.
Point #4 Teenagers utilize the vessel of the phone to explore their sexual interests. Flirting and communicating with sexual innuendo occurs indeed.
For some teens, they take sexting way too far and put themselves in harms way (e.g., non consensual sexting, sexting coercion, sextortion, sending sexually explicit photos, sexting with multiple people, …). These are all harmful aspects of sexting. Additionally there are some teenagers that have experienced or are experiencing serious emotional/mental health challenges, and as such sexting becomes an added symptom of an already existing problem.
For some teens, sexting is empowering (e.g., via the written word they express thoughts, wants and desires via text to a special someone they are connected with). This is not unlike erotic poetry for some teenagers at times. There is a tremendous difference in sending a sexual text, meaning; the written word with flirtatious sexual overtones. In essence, what used to be deemed a sext. This form of sexting for some teenagers is empowering as they experience it as a safe way to access their sexual exploratory side with the written word with someone close to them.
What is sexting?
Sexting at one point in time was known as utilizing the written word via text that is sexual in nature, flirtatious words and/or statements. This is the form of sexting that I spoke of on air when I asserted that sexting can be empowering. Again, can be – for some. Hence the term: sexting. Sexting morphed into also sending sexually explicit images and videos through the internet or via electronic devices such as smartphones. Images, pictures and videos is a huge problem, and puts teenagers in harm’s way, and I strongly advise against it.
Teen Sexting – are parents surprised?
When it comes to teen-to-teen interactions, sexting is typically via smartphones, and it is more common then parents realize. In my work as a therapist with teens, do note that particularly older teens have either sexted as the initiator or received what could be deemed as a sext. In other words, older teens sext much more than younger teens and the fact is, this makes sense. The JAMA study helps the public confront the reality that many teens knew, and parents did not, which is: teens are sexting. The teen years, particularly older teens, have an increased interest in sexual exploration, and this interest is normal and common. Therefore, in the digital age where the smartphone is a vessel used for expressing, interacting and connecting, it is a normal part of sexual behavior and development to express one’s self in a sexual way via the phone.
“Back in the day”, teens would talk on the telephone with the long wires (remember those) late into the night with flirty words and conversations would get hot and heavy. Sexual in nature sentences and drawings via the pen and paper would be given to a guy or girl of interest at school. At times in the classroom a teenager would get caught passing a note and the teacher would take the paper, other times as the note got passed teen-to-teen to find it’s way to the right person, another kid would open it. These days, the smartphone has taken the place of pen and paper and the wire phone. Getting on your bike and riding down the street to interact physically in a sexual way has been replaced by the written word of sexting for some teens.
Educate yourself as parents and your children
For those who have watched me on air through the years know that I believe the phone has become an appendage for far too many. In a variety of interviews on FOX News various shows I have addressed my concern about the addictive nature of the smartphone.
For those who have seen my interviews through the years also know that I believe we as a culture have gone too far in many areas of permissiveness and sexuality.
The fact also is that most parents are uninformed about the communications their kids are having (just like in our day), except now it is via sexting. Sexual exploration for teens goes on currently, has gone on in our own timeline past in previous generations, and will continue to go on. The vessels that are used by teens to express sexually are based on the time.
There are many parents and teens that do not have an open communicative relationship. And of those who do, many parents are uniformed about what to teach their children about sexual exploration in the digital age. For those parents who are informed and do have a good relationship with their kids and educate them – bravo. For even some of those families, the teens hear their parents perspective but do not take it to heart, for others they do. As parents it is important that we are informed and educate our children about sex, sexting, as well as how the use of technology plays a part in expressing one’s self including the risks and potential benefits.
Sex Education in school – sexting education in school
There are many High Schools that provide sex education to their students. If schools teach sex education, in my opinion the education can be improved upon. Imagine a school where there is a course that addresses: the philosophy of abstinence as well as the philosophy of sexual touch that is not intercourse as well as intercourse. In that same course for there to be a discussion about safe touch, love and respect, discussing safe sex, teaching about diseases, addressing topics such as power and control, compassion, and intimacy, and teaching teenagers to analyze and consider their actions before they decide to be sexually interactive. Additionally for that course to discuss the philosophy and psychology of sexting makes sense considering we are living in a digital age and teens are indeed sexting. Specifically including sexting as a topic of sex education, I would suggest the educator speaks on topics such as: digital citizenship (which is in a nutshell acting in a way that is safe, legal and ethical in your online interactions). The topic of sextortion I would also recommend to be discussed if there is sex ed in school and thus including sexting as a topic. Sextortion is when images or videos are used as a form of threat or blackmail. Coercion into sexting vs. consensual sexting is another important subject under the topic of sexting education. Sexting as words for expression not pictures, would also be a very important topic to address, discussing the risks of sending pictures. Talking about the dangers of expressing yourself with pictures. Having a classroom debate about the pros and cons of expressing yourself in a sexual way how it can be empowering for some when using the written word, not unlike poets and writers vs. not empowering for others and as such how it can place some feeling vulnerable and at risk.
In essence, a sexual education course that is non biased one way or the other and rather educational so that teenagers can understand and be informed would be helpful. I believe education is important. For a long time I thought sex education should be left just to the parents and not taught in schools. I shifted my thinking after many years of working with real families as a therapist and discovering that even in the most loving of families, in families where parents are educated, the fact is, there is a lack of information in the digital age coming from parents to their teenagers.
As a Psychotherapist who provides counseling to the youth population and adults, individually and as a family unit, I have become and continue to become more active in exploring their relationship with their technology as this has become such an important part the lives of the many. The fact is, in a school environment with a trained educator that specializes in and understands the importance of sex education with a non biased approach, and up to date in the relationship teens have with their smartphone offers an opportunity to be an addition to what we as parents provide to our teenagers. Not instead of, in addition to. Furthermore, if this type of course existed it offers teenagers an environment conducive to learning in that they are in a classroom of their peers. And as such it offers a space to learn with humor and compassion, serious and exploratory, as the industry of technology continues to transform and how that plays a part in human sexuality is of significance.
If you missed my interview live-on-air on FOX News Channel’s The Ingraham Angle, it is available to view on demand: ‘Should schools teach kids about sexting?’