[A]ccording to a study published by the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, nearly 70% of college students admit to having sent or received sexually suggestive text messages. Apps like Snapchat, make it easier than ever for students to share nude or partially nude images.
When one old white man went to college, students had sex. Lots of it. We also had cameras, but we didn’t necessarily take pictures of it. I know, without pics, it didn’t happen, but that was a time where people had actual real life experiences, and had yet to realize they were supposed to share them with everyone they knew with visual proof.
So times change. It was astounding to learn that nearly 70% of students sext. Of course, it’s similarly astounding to learn that many kids think tattoos are cool. Kids. But then, when we engaged in conduct that we knew would be frowned upon, we did so with the knowledge that it was something we try to keep quiet so that our parents didn’t make our lives miserable. It wasn’t that they didn’t know we were up to no good, but that we had the good sense not to let them know about it.
But there is another prong to reason number 7, perhaps more disturbing than the first.
“For [college students] this is part of contemporary sexual expression and relationships,” says Danielle Citron, a law professor at University of Maryland who specializes in cybercrime. [Editorial note: Cybercrime doesn’t mean what you think it does.] “We want to encourage private sexual expression… but there’s got to be a sense of confidentiality.”
Up to this very moment, I was unaware that “we want to encourage private sexual expression” amongst college students. Allow it, perhaps. Tolerate it, for sure. But encourage it? That’s new to me. And I bet you can already see where this is going.
Julie Bogen, a senior at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., agrees that sexual expression is hindered without laws in place to protect individual privacy.
“The existence of revenge porn creates a twisted paranoia surrounding experimentation and trusting your partner,” Bogen says. “Who would trust anyone or try anything new… [when] if the relationship ends poorly, their private moments could end up as public domain?”
There used to be a lesson taught to college students, that actions had consequences. If you failed to study, you failed a course. If you stayed up all night drinking, you awoke with a hangover (and maybe worse). It was the way young people, feeling their freedom for the first time, learned that freedom isn’t free. There are costs exacted for the choices we make.
We also learned that life isn’t always fair. This is one of the toughest, but most important, lessons a child can learn. Fair is a subjective notion, as we view fair from our own perspective. Unfair can include pregnancy despite the use of a condom. Or sexually transmitted disease, the gift that keeps on giving. It can also include feelings of regret and inadequacy which serve to temper youthful enthusiasm for sex and so many other things.
After my days as a student, a plague descended on campus called AIDS. This was before it was known as HIV and there were drugs, and AIDS was a death sentence. You want unfair? This was unfair. For a very long time, it appeared that there would be no more promiscuity on campus. Indeed, even the notion of tolerating youthful experimentation with sex was over. Death was not an acceptable consequence.
The USA Today article, of course, ignores the question of actions and consequences, taking for granted that college students have the right to engage in stupid conduct without consequences, and pitches the backend solution, the Plan B for sexting.
Citron is in favor of criminalizing revenge porn, but says it needs to be done carefully in order to craft laws that are constitutional and narrowly written.
“These statutes should only cover circumstances where there was a shared understanding of privacy,” Citron says. “We don’t want to hold the media back from publishing images of public interest… we’re only punishing intentional privacy invasions.”
Yes, Citron pretends this was her idea rather than one of the problems that was utterly ignored until it was raised here and vehemently denied until it dawned on them that they were totally, off-the-charts, wrong. Scholarly attribution isn’t what it used to be. And still, the scheme is wrapped up in the rhetoric of careful crafting and narrowly written, so that nobody questions how vague and overbroad they are.
But enough about academic integrity. Set your sights too high and you’ll just be disappointed.
Instead, students should consider the adage that without pics, it didn’t happen. Do you really want your parents to know it happened? Do you want the world to know it happened? Does it make it unhappen if the scoundrel who violated your “shared understanding of privacy,” whatever that means, is prosecuted?
Without pics, there is no proof it happened. While your parents knew, when they kissed you good-bye outside your dorm room, that you were going to do things they might prefer you didn’t, and let you go anyway, they did so in the hope that you would both exercise sufficiently good judgment that you wouldn’t make a choice that could ruin your life, and would learn the lesson that actions have consequences.
If the new rule on college campuses is that we now encourage sexual expression, then there is nothing an old man can say to change that. See reason number 8. But that does not, all facile contentions to the contrary, mean that keeping your sexual expression private means that sending pics to others is either a good idea or one that precludes consequences. Even if it’s criminalized, because stercus accidit.
If you won’t learn this lesson for your own sake, do it for your parents. Reason number 7 for sending a child to college is not so that their naked, sexual image can be plastered on the interwebz. If 70% of all college students jumped off a roof, would you? Don’t sext. Anyone who says this is isn’t a monumentally bad choice is either lying or a fool.
Edit: I failed to note an additional reason. If you’re the recipient of a sext, don’t show it to anyone. Ever. Don’t mention that you received it. No one will think you’re uncool for not doing so, but many will think something is seriously wrong with you for revealing something that shouldn’t exist in the first place. Foremost among them will be your parents, who didn’t send you to college to become an asshole.