April 26, 2010

Sexting, Sex tapes and Pop Culture

Guest post by: Rachel O

Let me start off by saying that whenever I read about online and cell phone phenomenons such as “sexting”, I feel old.  I was in high school only 10 years ago, but the current culture feels so far removed from what I grew up around.  There were plenty of rumors about people’s behavior regarding sex, drugs, and relationships, but they were just words, nothing more.  All teenagers in all periods of time have acted reckless, made stupid decisions, and made mistakes.  Except now, those mistakes live online, on computers, in a digital chip forever.  There’s no escaping – pictures meant for one person can be shown to hundreds of Facebook friends, and profiles and pages deleted are stored in Google cache, long after they’re gone.  There seems to be these two parallels running at the same speed – risque and sexual behavior starting at younger ages, as technology makes communication easier and faster.

I started thinking “Have we learned nothing from the Paris Hiltons and Kim Kardashians of the world?”  Of course it then occurred to me that mainstream media, and the treatment of these women is part of the problem.  I’m not saying they should’ve been slut shamed or torn to shreds, but the way it was handled doesn’t exactly set a good example.  Paris Hilton went from being an anonymous heiress to a household name (again hit television show, movie roles, spokesperson, etc.) What did Kim Kardashian get after her sex tape was “leaked?”  A hit television show on E! and countless offers to be a spokesperson, cover model, etc.    So far network heads, corporations, and publications have shown that you get rewarded for this kind of behavior.

Like I said, the answer isn’t slut-shaming, but maybe the answer is not rewarding these exploits or at the least not paying attention?  I got annoyed the other week when I read the Huffington Post writing about Brandon Davis’ tweets about ex-girlfriend Mischa Barton.  “Why is the media still giving this asshole a platform?” I wondered.  The question isn’t just “Why were these women rewarded for their sex tapes?”  But like Davis’ tweets, “Why were the sex tapes a top story in the news in the first place?”  The media is our educator – they get to set the norms.  So what is the norm the average 15 year old girl is growing up watching?  Girls Next Door, Pretty Wild, and Keeping up with the Kardashians, just to name a few.  I grew up watching Daria and Buffy.  Quite a difference in the last decade, no?  Not everyone is lucky or educated enough to be as media literate as us.

The pop culture landscape is flooded with endless streams of hypsersexualized images, with images targeting younger and younger audiences, and personal sexual exploits that would concern any parent resulting in reality TV careers. What’s a young person to do? The messages are conflicted and inconsistent. The news reports the latest story on sexting or a tween sexual exploit shared on Facebook and at the next turn a new celeb-wannabe gets rewarded with fame and fortune for the same behavior.

As parents are less able to keep up with all the new technological innovations that make this behavior easier and faster, teenagers expose every aspect of their lives through social networking, the two combined create a problem that just seems to be spreading instead of slowing down. Combine this with the contradictions of the media environment and one can become overwhelmed, searching for answers.

We need to be educated – in technology, in the long lasting effects of this behavior, and in having a critical eye when it comes to magazines, TV, movies, and music.  It’s important not to forget about the influence the media can and does have on our society and culture.


  1. Every time I hear feminists talk about “sexting” etc., I’m amazed that the consensus typically seems to be we should condemn such activities. Shouldn’t the focus really be on the people exploiting sexts? As a sex positive feminist, I’m uncomfortable with the message that sexting is wrong or should be avoided. It can be a healthy expression of sexuality. The problem comes in when sexts are suddenly shared with hundreds or thousands of people without the original party’s consent or when women feel pressured to engage in these activities if she does not want to. Are there laws against this (not that I necessarily support our justice system, but that’s another story…)?

    These are just a few jumbled thoughts, but maybe it will get a dialouge going. 🙂

    Comment by Kristen — April 26, 2010 @ 4:58 pm

  2. I don’t think the article in any way implied that those doing the sexting should be condemned. The first paragraph acknowledges that teens have always behaved in similar ways and that the ultimate difference is the technology that allows that information to be shared without the consensus of all parties involved. At the same time, research shows that these behaviors are beginning at younger and younger ages and that the media environment contributes to this (check some of the embedded links). That’s what I have a problem with. There is no reason children should be sexualized so early. How can sexting be healthy for an individual that doesn’t even understand their own sexuality? I don’t think 10, 11 and 12 year-olds are emotionally prepared for the sexual onslaught they are confronted with. I began having sex early and I am pro-sex but I know I wasn’t mature enough for the experiences I had. Your comment seems to be consistent with the intention and aim of the article. Were you just raising these points in general? Because Rachel and I agree with you and so does the article Rachel wrote 🙂 One of the last points pointed out the hypocrisy that exists: sexting is bad but we’ll reward you with a reality show for a sex tape. As a feminist mother, I don’t think there’s anything positive about my son getting saturated with hypersexual images and messages that tell young people that sexuality is your main form of power and expression. My thoughts are equally jumbled but I hope it makes sense. Looks like we’re on the same page. Lets see what others have to say.

    Comment by Melanie — April 26, 2010 @ 5:44 pm

  3. PS: The last sentence promotes media literacy because the facts are that the media environment shapes our framework of reality.

    Comment by Melanie — April 26, 2010 @ 5:47 pm

  4. Agreed, I think we are all wandering around the same page. These are some thoughts I’ve had in general! But I see after a second reading of the post that there are even more ways in which we agree.

    I guess the question is (what Rachel is raising here), how do we combat the negative aspects of this phenomenon? Sadly, we can’t expect the media to stop broadcasting sex scandals any time soon…but as always, we can choose not to watch their shows, specials, etc.

    Do we focus on prevention by teaching children/teens how to explore their sexuality and technology safely? How do we do that, particularly for the younger children you were referring to? I’m really curious what your thoughts are since you identify as a feminist mother.

    Have you seen those funny “think before you text” (I can’t remember the exact slogan) commercials? I wonder if they are actually having any impact in creating a dialogue. Has anyone seen any other efforts to raise awareness?

    And for women (young and older), how can we teach them to protect themselves? I feel like technology needs to become part of prevention teaching in school…kind of like sex ed. We know abstinence only education doesn’t work, but teaching teens how to have safe sex helps prevent unwanted thing from happening. I feel like the same should apply here–not focusing on the act itself but how to do it safely, how to determine who and what technologies are, and what the potential consequences of these actions are.

    Again, just more thoughts. 🙂

    Comment by Kristen — April 26, 2010 @ 7:11 pm

  5. Thanks, Kristen. Excellent points. I’ll have to mull them over and get back to you soon. It’ll probably be Wednesday before I do, though. But, I will.

    Comment by Melanie — April 26, 2010 @ 7:38 pm

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  7. Interesting reading … and I am bit shocked that young women would want to be shown on websites, but it seems no different than the lure of wanting to be in the entertainment business. People could make a similar statement to retailers ~ what does Victoria Secret attempt to gain with “Want to see your favorite Victoria’s Secret model nude? Sorry, you’re out of luck. But you can check out the next best thing as the lingerie company shows off its latest ‘Naked’ bras.” Their window displays nationwide are covering this event in huge displays and most certainly encouraging a theme that female shoppers are supporting.

    Comment by AG — April 28, 2010 @ 7:23 am

  8. First of all, i love your blog!! second, i’m sorry to intrude with something that is not related to this post, but i want to share with all of you a link of a horrible, machista, stupid argentine advertising of a beer. (yes, we have here in Argentina a lot of this kind of advertising!)

    Comment by ce — April 28, 2010 @ 8:18 am

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