I was flipping through google news while waiting for a friend, and I came across the irresistible heading "'Sexting' is more common than you might think." The superfluous "might" did not apply to me, as I've always assumed this behavior is ubiquitous, but I read it anyway. It was the usual rigmarole about how shocking it might be that kids well into puberty are experimenting with sexual communication. One of the related articles brought up the statistic that "Those who have been the victim of digital abuse are more likely to be sexually active or to have engaged in 'risky' behavior, such as stealing, using illegal drugs, drinking alcohol or smoking."
The conflation of sex, drugs, alcohol, stealing, and sending dirty pictures, is of course the closing argument for denying puritans the right to publish, and just in general for keeping statistics out of the hands of people who exploit the general public's inability to distinguish between correlation and causation. The perfunctory "or" and the quotes around "risky" do not excuse the author's phrasing.
But after my standard gut reaction,1 I read a marginally better article that focussed on suicides supposedly motivated by having naked pictures of themselves forwarded to their friends and not-so-friends. The first, worse article, reported "12 percent of those who engaged in sexting activity have contemplated suicide." Considering psychiatryonline.org reports puts the general average of teens contemplating suicide at 19 percent, these kids are doing pretty well. I'm curious how these studies phrase their inquiries; technically, I'm contemplating suicide right now, and have many times in the past, without the vaguest inclination to actually do it. Also, two suicides resulting from some pandemic form of digital abuse or public humiliation sort of makes me want to get up and applaud what is obviously the safest risky behavior in town. These are outliers, like most sensationalized suicides.
Though these articles are bright shining examples of how to distort an issue without actually saying anything false, they put me in mind of the many emails we receive at work, sent by people who scream at us by not protecting the pictures of themselves they put online to attract mates. Since most people have Windows PCs, and most Windows PC keyboards have a "Print Screen" button, it's tempting to scream at these people for being idiots for using a service designed to let people post pictures for a global audience, for free, and then getting upset that somebody saw it and was able to do copy it because it's a piece of digital information and the immense ease of replicating digital information is a legacy issue that arose from the fact that THAT'S WHY WE INVENTED THE TECHNOLOGY IN THE FIRST PLACE you fucking idiot.
In my younger days, I didn't know the difference between "reply" and "reply all", and that resulted in me sending my social security number to 500 strangers, several people who didn't like me, and at least one person who liked me way too much. Older and wiser, I now know that this was a particularly bad example of the standard "reply all fail", and it is very important to check who is included in the send-to box of any email. The point is that people don't recognize how quickly and destructively their information can be made available to millions of people by accident, to say nothing of a motivated adversary.
This kind of technological ignorance, that is thankfully waning from the first world public, is not their primary problem. It's their inability to grasp that the heavily advertised "connectivity and sharing" is exactly the same thing as the much feared "vulnerability and exposure" that results from information being an increasingly communal commodity. This misunderstanding of how information works and travels is shamelessly hijacked by those trying to convince us that all sex is a form of abuse by writing articles about how blooming sexuality leads to humiliation and death. The irony is how the people writing these articles seem unaware that the libido is not going away, and the constant juxtaposition of abuse and death with sex is just laying the psychological groundwork for that really twisted porn that makes normal people not want to have sex. On second thought, maybe it's not ironic at all, but I'd still rather dispense with both snuff films and the Christian Right.
I have a huge advantage in this world, which was the advice my dad gave me when I was ten years old. It was "Don't do anything you don't want on the front page of the newspaper the next morning." I freely admit that I interpreted that advice to mean stay under the radar and dispense with shame, but regardless of the moral implications of my decisions, they led to the gut instincts that prevent me from publicly screwing myself in the modern world of front pages for everyone.
Regardless of your level of shame or what you're willing to admit to, don't make a digital copy of anything you don't want to go public, or at least don't send it to anyone, or at the very least, be prepared to deal with it when the person you sent it to sends it to your teacher, your spouse, and your mother. That's it. I'm prepared to deal with every recorded piece of information about me being made public. You should be too, and that's what you should be teaching your kids, not telling them, and certainly not believing, that "sexting" leads to drug use and suicide.
1 Namely, "deal."