The headline was alarming enough: “One in four teens are sexting, a new study shows.”
Just in case you’ve been on another planet the last few years, “sexting” is using social media (but technically, using any electronic form) to send sexually explicit images, videos or messages to another person. So instead of calling it a “text” it’s called a “sext,” and doing it is called “sexting.” According to an analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than one in four teenagers are engaged in it.
The study actually went down in age to as low as 11, finding that with each year of increasing age, children grew more likely to send and receive sexts.
But it was the byline that jumped off the page: “Relax, researchers say, it’s mostly normal.” The thinking was as follows: Since sexting is becoming more common, it may be “an emerging, and potentially normal, component of sexual behavior and development.” Further, “if it’s consensual and both teens wanted it and are okay with it, you are not going to see the negative psychological health.” So sexting is only problematic when, say, a sext is forwarded without consent.
This is a frightening (but important) way of thinking to understand, as it is becoming all too common in the cultural public square. Let’s follow the line of thought:
- If two people agree to engage in something sexual, even teens, it’s okay – it just has to be consensual. Mutual agreement is all-determining in terms of ethic and health.
- If a sexual act that would have been considered indecent grows in frequency and widespread practice, then it’s a sign that it is normal and not damaging to those who participate. What makes something acceptable and normal and healthy is the number of people doing it.
Never mind the dark side of something like sexting. Never mind, for example,
… the impulsive nature of teenagers, yet the eternal nature of digital photos;
… the effect of receiving or sending a sext on an 11-year-old (The average age a child is given a smartphone by their parent is 10.);
… the ways sexts can be forwarded without consent as “revenge porn” or other forms of harassment;
… and that sending nude pictures of anyone under the age of 18 is illegal (Let’s not forget, it’s called “child porn.”).
Let’s just live with the thought-process itself. Its guiding light says whatever is consensual is moral, and whatever is prevalent is normal. That is a world without any sense of transcendent truth or outside authority. That is a world whose inhabitants’ only sense of a God,
… is themselves.
James Emery White
Eli Rosenberg, “One in Four Teens Are Sexting, A New Study Shows. Relax, Researchers Say, It’s Mostly Normal,” The Washington Post, February 27, 2018, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.