January 19, 2010
When I was sixteen and living in Germany, I sent letters to a former teacher of mine, with poems culled from Cannery Row and any other book I thought of as cool. I was in love, and the poems were strangely explicit, and her responses returned the favor. My parents didn’t ask to read them, nor did they suspect anything. Never fell a photograph from her pages onto my mother’s carpets.
That was then. Yearnings of today might still result in stolen poems, but how much more can the naked body say! A friend of mine in Michigan seems to get plenty of anatomy lessons on his cell phone, and he isn’t shy about sharing. (He’s also not shy about sharing his own anatomy with others, up close and personal). Girls take choice close-ups and send them to – let’s call him Joe. A lot. It’s a game, the girls’ way of stalking him gently, if not subtly. His showing the pictures to others is part of his refusal to give in.
Our culture is over-sexed in image and overly puritan in mind, and that makes for great bigoted drama (can anyone say “Wardrobe Malfunction” with a straight face?). And there’s real drama.
Another friend of mine, let’s call her Anna, found nude pictures which weren’t hers, on her husband’s Blackberry. She was outraged and impressed. His imagination fueled by these pictures, Rich, the husband, plunged into a new relationship that never took off. After this new woman, who had sent him said photos, told Rich to leave her alone, he stalked her by text. And then in person. When he was released from jail, the police kept his Blackberry. Rich moved back in with his wife and kids and they are all on medication.
I don’t think that sexting is particularly lewd or harmful (when not sent into somewhat still-intact marriages), however we do live in times when sex videos of stars and wannabes go YouTube, people peek through motel-room doors and post your private parts right where Mommy and Daddy can see them, plus all your fellow students, your students, lovers, soon-to-be-outraged exes, and the university administration looking into hiring you.
And now, some states (including Florida) have decided to crack down on sexting among minors. They’ve concluded that it’s best to punish both sender and receiver with jail time if they’re underage.
Which makes great sense. A Nigerian lottery king sends you a notification that you just have to wire him a small fee of $3,000 to redeem your winnings, and you get busted for it. Osama bin Laden sends you a letter bomb and you get thrown in jail. I’ll send you flowers, roses and chocolates and press my face against your night window, and then we’ll spend our vacation together in prison.
Sure, it’s not a good idea to sext. After all, nudie pictures do get shown around, and can conveniently be fed into the computer, the web, and everybody’s home. But is it criminal? When I was in high school and our class went on a camping trip in some woods outside of town, not even our teacher went to jail for presiding over the rampant exchange of bodily fluids that followed the campfire singing. What was he to do? Shackle us to the tent poles? Not even that would have stopped us.
In the end, the whole sexting debate is similar to the one about guns and violence. Sure, guns don’t kill people, people do. But hand out guns indiscriminately and people will get shot. If you don’t want your teen to send or receive sexts, if you don’t to receive pictures of wieners and valleys – don’t buy smart phones. Buy dumb phones. They are still on the market and are preferred by professionals who go to court a lot, or work in facilities where industrial espionage is an issue. Dumb phones are the smart choice. Strip clubs allow them too.