If I were to pick up any news magazine with a target age demographic between 30 and 60, I would expect to find an article on sex in youth culture. I would expect to learn about young people giving blow jobs on school buses, doing strange things to penises with lipstick, wearing thongs and sexting. I would be shocked if this article didn’t involve sexting.
I have always found the concept of sexting hilarious, ever since I read the first What It Is and What You Can Do About It article. The idea that the youth are texting each other pictures of penises, boobs, and general nakedness tickles me for a lot of reasons. One, I’m not convinced it happens. Two, adults are obsessed with the idea that it happens. Three, I might have done it accidentally.
It all started when I decided that sexting was logistically problematic, at least within the fabric of a text conversation. I had trouble understanding the point at which a regular textual conversation can, not awkwardly, transition into a sexual textual conversation.
“Hey, how was your day?”
“I think I aced this test.”
“Good for you.”
“What are you up to tonight?”
“Not sure yet.”
“(Me sprawled out naked)”
Maybe I have trouble understanding sexting’s allure because my idea of wild is a late-night bag of Doritos. Or maybe it’s because I don’t trust people, let alone trust them with my naked body, which I dislike. So last semester I was determined to understand the appeal of sexting for myself. I wanted to see if sexting could be an effective form of communication, or at least an enjoyable pastime. One night, at around 2 a.m., I texted my good friend Gaby a picture of my breasts — in a bra, of course, since this was my first time and I wasn’t about to go all the way. Gaby was sitting right next to me.
When I pressed send I instantly regretted it. I found myself wishing for the days when one could (presumably) break into someone’s house and delete an embarrassing, rambling message off the machine. Gaby received the text, still next to me, and laughed. I laughed nervously. Before my eyes flashed compromising images of various tween stars, like Vanessa Hudgens, Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato, who experimented with their sexuality in really awkward ways and shared these experiments with friends, who then shared them with blogs and porn sites.
The next morning I left my phone in an early morning sociology seminar. That afternoon a friend told me that my professor had contacted her to say that my phone was left in class. The friend who alerted me was the second-to-last person I’d texted. The last person was Gaby, who I had texted my boobs. This means that my professor had gone to my text history, saw my most recent conversation, which is to say, breasts, and decided to get in touch with the next most recent person I had texted.
My first sexting encounter was mildly disastrous. This professor never looked at me the same way again; actually, he stopped looking at me all together. But the incident got me thinking. Do you sext a person with the intention of only that person seeing it, or, on some level, do you sext to an audience? I’m not trying to say that I wanted my professor to see me shirtless. Rather, in this virtual era, nothing is private. The boobs I send to one person as a joke could easily be sent to someone else, who could easily forward it to two other people, and so on. I took math in high school, so I know that this could end up reaching a lot of people. And now, since phones hook up to computers, we must contend with the vast, destructive potential of the Internet.
Maybe we all want our own scandals. Maybe we all want to be viral sensations. As tweens and even onwards, that’s what our role models tell us to be. And if we don’t have any real talents, we will always have a body that will at least turn someone on. There’s something to be said for this desire to be irresponsible, sexual, and looked at. So while sending someone a picture of your junk invites a wealth of really mortifying repercussions, maybe that’s something we’re okay with. Maybe on some strange level, this sort of attention is appealing. And from my limited sexting experience, the act can be a fun exercise in ironic social commentary, or a way to break up the monotony of class, paper-writing, or even short-lived hookups.
The other night, at two in the morning, I received a text from a male friend. It was a picture of his nipple, and the text read, “2am nipple! Enjoy :).” There is no way this text, which I’d consider a “sext” because it involved nipples, was meant to be taken seriously. Yet despite its irony I found it strangely intimate and perhaps an indication of his caring. The fact that I came to this conclusion says a lot about me and my relationships, but I’m going to argue that it says something about society: we’ll take intimacy wherever we can get it.
Which is why, the next day, I was a little heartbroken to receive this text from a random number: “Between this and all the pics you took on my camera on Saturday, I have seen way too much of your nipple in the past week.” It became clear that he had sent a mass nipple texting blast, and this recipient had replied all. Later that day, I read, “Thanks for the nipple,” on his Facebook wall.
It turns out his nipple, which isn’t even that good of a nipple, didn’t belong to me. I forwarded it along to some friends. Sexting is officially postmodern.