The logic is compelling. Sex is an activity in which some teens (and adults!) participate. It can be enticing. It can be dangerous. It can have life-changing ramifications. Thus, sex education.
Sexting is also an activity in which some teens (and adults!) participate. It can also be enticing, dangerous and life-changing. One study, using 2011 data from 10th and 11th graders in
Of course, 2011 is an eon ago in the history of teen sexting, which like much adolescent behaviour seems to evolve about as quickly as a Snapchat photo disappears. (You think.) Other studies have used other definitions of sexting and found differing degrees of prevalence. But however you define it, some teens are sending out messages unfit for public consumption.
Sexting teaching materials already exist. There’s Empowering Students to Engage in Positive Communication: K-12 Curriculum to Combat Student Sexting, from Miami-Dade County Public Schools. A key message can be quickly distilled from Secondary Lesson 3: Safe Sexting, No Such Thing. The previous lesson has an accompanying handout, My Personal Promise to Avoid ’Sexting, with spaces for student and parent signatures. The description of a later lesson notes that it "will help students gain an insight into the perspective of the 'victim' of sexting as well as helping those affected stop being victimised."
Jeff Temple, an associate professor and psychologist at the
Which raises the question: Must sext ed necessarily be abstinence-only? In the
A recent review of 10 official sexting-education campaigns concluded that all of them erred on the side of what the researchers called "abstinence" – that is, advising teens not to sext at all. These tend to link sexting tightly to ruinous consequences, but that’s a problem, because ruination doesn’t normally follow the sending of a sext.
"If we present it as inevitable, then we’ve lost our audience," says Elizabeth Englander, who leads groups about sexting in middle and high schools, "because they know very well that in the vast majority of cases it doesn’t happen."
Englander, a professor of psychology at Bridgewater State University, hones in on "the more risky situations she has identified from her research – namely, ones involving lots of pressure and very little trust," Rosin wrote.
Trouble is, sexting can be riskier than sex: There’s no precaution for it. Indeed, there may be no way to practice safe sext. Even in the most trustworthy relationships, someone can find themselves hacked, or put their phone down, inadvertently exposing private messages. But sexual attraction, especially among teens, isn’t going anywhere. And the technology that enables sending risque messages only seems to advance.
How do we navigate this issue?