The recent controversy over ‘Generation Sex’ was quite amusing – but also frustrating. Hypocrites in the news media and blogosphere put on a prim face as they lecture parents on controlling their teens, or throw their hands up in despair at how we’ll never be able to control them. But whether they’re scaremongering parents or shaming teens, they are united in their message: we should abhor the sluttiness of the young.
As for the young themselves, they are quite invisible in the national conversation. Being a marginalised, disenfranchised group, they haven’t been able to defend their actions, repudiate the report’s claims, or set the terms of the debate. 12-16 year olds – and even those who are older – are less socially adept, less intellectually developed and less educated. Hardly fair game, wouldn’t you agree? And as if what anyone does at age 12 or 14 is any indication of the kind of adult they’ll grow up to be. (At this age, young Kalika hated sluts and despised sexworkers; what kids think and do about sex at this age is absolutely unimportant). This is especially true of sex; many individuals don’t come out as gay or begin transitioning until their later teen years; we take time to explore our sexuality and build on our sexual skills. Sure, there must be 12 year olds enacting rape scenes with a St. Andrew’s Cross in a makeshift torture chamber, and props to them; but if you’re such a prude that you can’t bear this scenario, you haven’t got a whole lot to worry about in a society so sexually conservative that we think Fifty Shades is porn. Or kinky.
Historically, people have always been paranoid about the sexuality of the young; from the Can-Can dance of the Victorian era to “heavy petting” in the 1960s to 1990s “bumping and grinding”, young peoples’ bits and where they put them have never ceased to be of interest to the older generations.
But there is no getting away from the fact that, before sexting – which, by the way, has been going on since 2001, so it’s a bit late to be getting bothered about it – there were cameras. Before flashing on webcam, there was groping behind the bike sheds. Before weed, there was LSD. Before alcopops, there was beer. Before bralets there were miniskirts. All this unhealthy interest in our childrens’ privates is just classic moral panicking over the wider range of adolescent behaviour as documented by Stanley Cohen in 1970. But it’s not hip to be on about violence any more (at least, without mentioning video gaming) or drinking (because we aren’t even debating it any more – we’ve moved on to debating if minimum alcohol pricing is the right ‘solution’ to this ‘problem’ of people drinking) so teen sex – titillating, worrying, tabloid-selling teen sex – is the Next Big National Distraction.
As ‘teen pregnancy’ has been falling since the 1970s, people who write with shock about our nation’s slutty youth need to admit they are hypocrites. They weren’t wearing chastity belts when they were in high school, so what gives them any right to tut-tut when it’s the turn of the young ‘uns? Perhaps it is envy, especially now that in the developed world, people are living longer. With Britain’s retirement age now 68, people who would once have been in old age homes are now still working. They’re parents to forty-somethings and grandparents to high school pupils and students. Whereas in previous generations our descendants would help out on our farm or carry on the family business, now they carve out their own careers, subscribe to their own religious and political beliefs, and even (especially in a recession) compete with us for jobs. We are no longer raising our successors, but our competitors.
In addition, it is now more acceptable for mothers and middle-aged women to openly have a sex life, even one that is non-monogamous. More than ever, forty and fifty year olds are using beauty products, exercise and visits to salons to look after their appearance and remain attractive. As a mother’s appearance wrinkles and her body sags, she watches her 15-year-old daughter growing up and getting her pick of the lads; if her daughter is older – perhaps a student or graduate – she sees her daughter dating the men she can only dream of dating.
Why do I say “mother” and “daughter” without mentioning fathers and sons? Because the photos associated with such articles usually only feature teenage girls. It is girls’ sexting, not boys’, that is controversial. (Double standard again).
Instead of bitterly airing our envy in a paternalistic ‘concern’ to protect our kids from themselves, why not accept that no consequencs arise from sexting in a society without the double standard? For one thing, photos of body parts cannot be identified; also, even if your face is in the photo, photos don’t always look like the real person. And for another, there are so many naked photos on the internet that it hardly matters if yours ends up there too; if it’s seen, it will be seen amid many others.
The only consequences come from slut-shaming and bullying. We shouldn’t be telling girls not to sext, we should be telling all kids not to slutshame. Amanda Todd didn’t commit suicide because she sexted and the image was sent to others; she killed herself because she was slutshamed by other girls. If the double standard didn’t exist, then no matter how many people saw the photo she wouldn’t have been slutshamed and would still be alive today. Sexting shouldn’t have an “aftermath” or any “consequences”, and in a healthy, non-misogynistic society, it wouldn’t.
Kids shouldn’t be discouraged from sexting any more than they should be discouraged from expressing themselves in any other way such as through art, sport or creative writing. If you want kids to stop sexting, adults must first stop sexting and provide an example. As long as adults sext, we are hypocrites for being ‘concerned’ over teens doing it. They should in fact be just as concerned for us. At least if a teen’s photo ends up on the internet, they would look effin’ good, instead of an older adult who might look droopy or balding [goes off to vomit]. And we can’t call teens ‘Generation Sex’ as long as we sext and have sex. We’re as slutty as they are. and it is morally wrong to slutshame a marginalised, disenfranchised and still generally voiceless generation.
Boys and girls sext in equal measure, but people seem less concerned about boys. Is it because only girls should be chaste and hide their sinful-but-precious bodies, or because only females get slutshamed? I don’t know; but we have to stop and focus on telling our kids not to slutshame, rape, or coerce and to report molesters instead of what we currently are telling them.
Hugo Schwyzer’s take on sexting and girls: http://www.hugoschwyzer.net/2012/10/28/one-mistake-wont-ruin-your-life-why-we-need-a-female-steve-jobs/
The same, but longer, article on Jezebel – it’s excellent! http://jezebel.com/5955277/one-mistake-wont-ruin-your-life-remember-that