Sexual relationships in the digital age

Photo Illustration by Michael Uribes / The Collegian

“Sexting” – sending sexually explicit images or messages through cell phones – isn’t a new trend, but it certainly seems to be a growing one.

Tamyra Pierce, a mass communication and journalism professor and media effects researcher at Fresno State, surveyed 409 Fresno State students. She found that approximately half of them had sent inappropriate images from their cell phones and that one-third of them had forwarded sexually explicit images.

“I was somewhat surprised,” Pierce said. “But after studying all of this in the last five years or so, I found that people are being a little bit more forward online or with their cell phones and they are becoming a little more uninhibited with sending photos.”

Pierce said many fall victim to a false sense of security behind their cell phones or computers, thinking that their images will not go any further than the one individual they sext. This is when the real trouble can begin.

“My goodness, the humiliation of all these people seeing or hearing about this incident,” Pierce said. “If one person sent 50 people the picture on their cell phone, we don’t know who those 50 people sent the picture to. It can really start to snowball.”

Pierce recalled the case of Cincinnati high school student Jesse Logan who in 2008 sent a nude picture of herself to her boyfriend. After their breakup, he spread the picture around campus. After months of embarrassment and harassment, Logan took her own life by hanging herself at age 18.

According to the Sex and Tech survey, conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20 percent of all teenagers have sent nude or semi-nude photos of themselves. The same survey found that 39 percent of all teens have posted or sent sexually-suggestive messages about themselves.

Pierce said she’s seen these trends developing and has visited several local schools to talk to teens about the perils awaiting those who are participating in these activities.

“I [give] speeches to schools and parents and students,” Pierce said. “We can’t tell everybody to put restrictions [on sexting] but they need to be aware.”

Pierce said that sexting began with the popularity of social networking sites where a lot of teens and young adults would post pictures of themselves on the internet.

“Lots of the activity we’ve seen posted on MySpace or Facebook was taken with cell phones in bathrooms,” Pierce said. “Many of these pictures were provocative or sexual and they got used to taking pictures of themselves with their cell phones.”

Teens and adults can also get into trouble with law enforcement for sending sexual images of themselves or of others.

Amy Armstrong, public information officer for the University Police Department (UPD), said the UPD is aware of the activity, but has not had to take any legal actions thus far.

“We haven’t seen any situations like this so we haven’t had to deal with it,” Armstrong said. “Unless there is a crime involved there is nothing we can do. Most of these cases are a civil matter and that is not something we get involved with.”

The UPD has not dealt with any cases, but teens and young adults around the country are being charged with crimes such as distributing pornography or child pornography.

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