Sexting has garnered a bad reputation, and outdated sex education, taught by teachers accustomed to a world without smart phones, only contributes to the stigma. Rather than condemn sexting, sex educators need to provide accurate and useful information for those who choose to take part.
Sexting, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the action or practice of sending or exchanging sexually explicit or suggestive messages or images electronically, especially using a mobile phone,” is a relatively new phenomenon, only added to the dictionary in 2005.
Due to rapidly changing technology, people are able to share sexually explicit messages and images of themselves with greater ease than ever before. Unlike technology, however, the curriculum for sex education in Canada is anything but rapidly changing.
Sex education continues to be a touchy topic, with many schools opting to offer abstinence-only education rather than a comprehensive curriculum. Similarly, the conversation surrounding sexting remains largely focused on abstaining rather than providing information on safety and harm reduction.
Even educators who provide information on safer sex practices often make no mention of safer sexting practices. Whether this is due to negative opinions about sexting or simply an inability to keep up with changing technology and practices, the result remains the same — teens are not receiving adequate information on how to stay safe while sexting.
Students receiving a comprehensive sex education need to receive information about sexting. This information should include potential legal consequences of sexting, education on consent and harm reduction practices.
According to section 163.1 of the Canadian Criminal Code, sexually explicit material depicting individuals under the age of 18 is considered child pornography and is illegal. However, sexting is generally not considered an illegal activity if consent is involved.
This is where consent education comes in. Consent must be enthusiastic, ongoing and apply to more than just bodily sexual activities. Sharing sexts without permission is a violation of consent. Non-consensual distribution of sexts is the fault of the individual who distributes it, not the original sender.
Schools need to teach teens that communication prior to sexting is the first step. Partners should discuss whether or not they will delete any photos sent or keep them to look at again in the future. Discussing electronic security with your partner is important also; both the sender and receiver hold responsibility for keeping sexually explicit material private.
Much like sex education surrounding contraceptive use and sexually transmitted infection prevention, education on sexting requires information on safer sex practices as well.
Harm reduction tactics for sexting could include establishing trust, cropping identifiable features — such as one’s face or tattoos — out of explicit photos, removing exchangeable image file format data from images, using secure devices and networks when sending sexts and logging out of any apps used for sexting on other devices.
Sexting is here to stay and is a normal and healthy aspect of many sexual relationships in contemporary culture. Like most sexual practices, negative outcomes can be largely mitigated with proper education. Sex education curriculums must be inclusive of safer sexting practices if they are to remain relevant and effective.
Graphic: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor