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We Are All Sexters Now: America’s Favorite Amateur Porn

Sexting nation, 78 million strong! How the scolds and moralists lost, and sexting became an all-American pastime.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Ammentorp Photography/Shutterstock.com

 
 
 
 

It was only a few years ago when scolds and the media made “sexting” a national concern. Congressmen were being outed for exposing themselves in revealing sexts; states across the country were passing laws making it a crime; hundreds of kids were being busted for doing it; and talk-show talking heads, along with religious leaders and other social worthies, were bemoaning the fate of American youth. Sexting was scary.

Today, sexting has all but disappeared from public discourse. Sure, occasional teen busts are reported, but they capture far less media attention. Why? What’s happened to make the hottest media story of a couple of years ago pretty much disappear from the public stage?

With rare exception, the popular media are driven by the crisis du jour: the latest body count report, natural disaster or political sex scandal.  So, yesterday’s news is so yesterday.

But sexting is more than a media story; it is the first original form of pornography to emerge in the 21st century. Sexting may have disappeared from the public spotlight, but it has not disappeared from public life.

Sexting is an original form of do-it-yourself (DIY) or user-generated-content (UGC) media, amateur porn. It began as a subversive art, with young people taking, sending and receiving explicit nude, semi-nude and provocative still images, video clips and/or text messages of themselves and others via a smartphone or another mobile communication device.

Sexting is not child porn, or sexual bullying; for the most part, sexting is not a form of sexual exploitation, of violation. Rather, it is a postmodern aesthetic with roots reaching back to pre-modern forms of female representation, from the original 17th century “posture girl.”  Between 10 and 20 percent of teens engage in sexting, but they are only the tip of an increasingly popular social phenomenon.

The outings of Congressmen Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., and Chris Lee, R-N.Y., in 2011 shifted the sexting storyline.  It went from a tabloid tale of out-of-control teens, a 21st-century version of 1950s kids into obscene comic books or Marlon Brando’s “The Wild One,” to pathetic tales of male exhibitionists. Perhaps most alarming:  recent disclosures about the UK spy program, “Optic Nerve,” which scooped up an untold number of sexually explicit images, proves again that sexting is widespread among American adults.

Sexting is going suburban and vanilla.  Like “adult” pornography, it is being accepted as just one more of the “50 shades” of sexual titillation. Sexting scandals involving adults are regular occurrences and there’s even a website featuring the  latest celebrity sexting scandal.  Retina-X Studios, a company that sells online tracking tools, recently conducted a  study of 4,800 respondents and found that the most sexting takes place on Tuesday morning, between 10 a.m. and noon – time when most teens are in school. It also found that iPhone users engaged in sexting almost twice as frequently as Android users.

The most revealing testimony to the mainstreaming of sexting was  a recent Washington Post piece, “A guide to safe sexting: How to send nude photos without ruining your life, career and reputation.” Its warning to readers was simple: “Repeat after me: If you can’t prevent people from spreading your nudes, the next-best thing you can do is prevent them from ever knowing said nudes belong to you.”

The Post instructed readers to follow two essential rules for online posts. First: “Never include your face in the photo. Make the background nondescript. Cover or omit distinguishing features, like birthmarks and tattoos.” Second: “Anonymize the photo file itself. All photos, even ones taken on a smartphone or tablet, are embedded with information about how, when and where the photo was taken. This is called EXIF data, and you want to strip it from any photos you may need to deny ownership of in the future.” One can only wonder how many inside-the-Beltway players saved the article. Sexting has become an all-American form of self-expression.

 
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