‘Sexting’ is typically referred to as sending a nude photo through a phone. There is nothing new about sharing a nude photo with a beloved. You just used to have to go to a seedy photography shop to get your film developed, or use a Polaroid and hand it over. The chances of lots of people seeing the photo were low. Remember needing to spring for double prints? Now, within seconds, thousands of people can see your nude photo depending on which app or website it gets uploaded to. Stats on the prevalence of sexting among teens are unclear, because studies range between 9%-60% (1, 2) of teens reporting that they have ever shared a nude image of themselves. So it’s difficult to tell how common sexting actually is. In order for us to address sexting in a realistic way with teens, we must first understand the sexual culture they live in that normalizes sexting.
(1) Mitchell, K. J., Jones, L., Finkelhor, D., & Wolak, J. (2014b). Youth involvement in sexting: Findings from the youth internet safety studies. Crimes Against Children Research Center, 1-11.
(2) Crimmins, D. M., & Seigfried-Spellar, K. C. (2014). Peer attachment, sexual experiences, and risky online behaviors as predictors of sexting behaviors among undergraduate students. Computers in Human Behavior, 32, 268-275.
(3) Walrave, M., Ponnet, K., Van Ouytsel, J., Van Gool, E., Heirman, W., & Verbeek, A. (2015). Whether or not to engage in sexting: Explaining adolescent sexting behaviour by applying the prototype willingness model. Telematics and Informatics, (April). doi:10.1016/j.tele.2015.03.008
(4) Vanden Abeele, M., Campbell, S. W., Eggermont, S., & Roe, K. (2014). Sexting, Mobile Porn Use, and Peer Group Dynamics: Boys’ and Girls' Self-Perceived Popularity, Need for Popularity, and Perceived Peer Pressure. Media Psychology, 17(1), 6–33. doi:10.1080/15213269.2013.801725.
(5) Ringrose, J., Harvey, L., Gill, R., & Livingstone, S. (2013). Teen girls, sexual double standards and ‘sexting’: Gendered value in digital image exchange. Feminist Theory, 14, 305-323.
(6) Milhausen, R. R., & Herold, E. S. (1999). Does the sexual double standard still exist? Perceptions of university women. Journal of Sex Research, 36, 361-368.
(7) Calogero, R. M., & Thompson, J. K. (2009). Sexual self-esteem in American and British college women: Relations with self-objectification and eating problems. Sex Roles, 60, 160-173.
(8) Grabe, S., & Hyde, J. S. (2009). Body objectification, MTV, and psychological outcomes among female Adolescents1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39, 2840-2858.
(9) Schick, V. R., Calabrese, S. K., Rima, B. N., & Zucker, A. N. (2010). Genital appearance dissatisfaction: Implications for women’s genital image self-consciousness, sexual esteem, sexual satisfaction, and sexual risk. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34, 394-404.
(10) Muehlenkamp, J. J., & Saris–Baglama, R. N. (2002). Self–objectification and its psychological outcomes for college women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26, 371-379.
(11) Tolman, D. L. (2005). Dilemmas of desire: Teenage girls talk about sexuality. Harvard: University Press. American Psychological Association, T. F. O. T. S. O. G. (2007). Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. APA Talk Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
(12) Sabina, C., Wolak, J., & Finkelhor, D. (2008). The nature and dynamics of Internet pornography exposure for youth CyberPsychology & Behavior, 11(6), 691-693.
(13) Albury, K. (2014). Porn and sex education, porn as sex education. Porn Studies, 1, 172-181.
Photo Source: Dollar Photo Club
There is something eerily disturbing about committing crimes, photographing them, and then sharing those photos on a social media site. An investigation into a Penn State fraternity, Kappa Delta Rho, is underway as police allegedly uncovered images of drug deals and nude (some unconscious) women that were posted on the fraternity’s Facebook group page. The entitlement and lack of empathy from these actions should make us all cringe.
It seems clear that the Greek system is a breeding ground for questionable behavior and needs to be reformed. Don’t get me wrong, there are many positive contributions from fraternities that benefit the universities and outlying communities that support them. However, that doesn’t negate the criminal behavior that also occurs more frequently among fraternities: underage drinking, drug use, vandalism, harassment, sexual assault, and now, revenge porn. We know that at least 1 in 5 women have experienced rape by the age of 25 (1), which is a daunting to say the least. So why have we turned and looked the other way after studies reveal that sexual assault is a common occurrence among many fraternities (2, 3, 4)? Are we really just fine with chalking it all up to “boys will be boys”?
What is posting nude images of women without their consent about?
Although members of KDR claim their behavior is just a joke, posting nude photos of women who are unconscious is cruel, to say the least. Posting images or videos of nudity and/or sex that were consensually taken but not consensually distributed is typically referred to as revenge porn (5), which is illegal in many states. What is even more disturbing, is that the alleged photos on the KDR page were not consensually taken or consensually distributed. In defense of Kappa Delta Rho, one member anonymously gives his take on the issue. “It was an entirely satirical group and it was funny to some extent. Some of the stuff, yeah, it’s raunchy stuff, as you would expect from a bunch of college-aged guys,” he said. “But, I mean, you could go on any one of hundreds and thousands of different sites to access the same kind of stuff and obviously a lot worse and a lot more explicit.”
Unfortunately, it is difficult to tell the difference between revenge porn and amateur porn. Most porn users think they are just going to amateur sites which is morally better than supporting the porn industry. However, it is hard to classify that type of porn use as righteous with video and image captions like, “Watch me *#%K my ex!” or “Check out this chick getting *#%ked. I don’t even know her name!” Until recently, no one knew what to call this type of porn and thus it defaulted to ‘amateur porn’. However, the term ‘revenge porn’ is more appropriate for much of the material because the women in these videos did not consent to distribution.
What individuals don’t often realize is that guys aren’t just posting and viewing this material passively. Many are using this material to give them an orgasm. Let that sink in for a minute. These sites are created as porn, to masturbate with. If you are using something to give you physiological pleasure (i.e. dopamine) it becomes a behavioral reinforcer. We see this with almost any animal in almost any context. So, why is the context of humans and internet porn any different? Is this the one arena where all that we know about the psychology and physiology of learning becomes obsolete? Unlikely. Imagine a room full of guys that masturbate several times a week to revenge porn getting physiologically reinforced for that behavior. Then, those same guys sit through a 2-hour sexual assault prevention program. How can the prevention program possibly compete?
Why would a group of guys post images of criminal behavior on social media?
Members of the community are ‘shocked’. These guys participate in THON! So, sexually assaulting and harassing is fine as long as you also raise money for charity? Please. Let’s look at the white, heterosexual, male privilege here (6). You commit a crime, get a good lawyer, you’ll likely be fine. It’s difficult to imagine that a black fraternity would get away with posting photos of drug deals. Another recent example of the privilege of white fraternities was the Oklahoma incident where racism reared its ugly head. I’m not saying all fraternities are sexist or racist, but the very structure of them creates the environment for sexist and racist ideology to breed, but more importantly, to go unchecked.
Even though revenge porn website enthusiasts swear their motivation is nothing but an opportunity 'to look at real naked women’, in reality, the act of uploading a nude picture to punish a woman for leaving you or to boast about you %#$*ing her, is less of an act of sexual expression and more similar to the criminal behavior of stalking and harassment (7). It is clear that non-consensual distribution of sexual imagery and videos is intended to humiliate the victim. With that in mind, we should amend stalking and harassment legislation to reflect our new cyber-reality. Just because the abusive acts are happening in cyberspace doesn't mean the experience of being humiliated and harassed by an ex is any less terrifying.
Why do we do nothing when we hear of college campus sexual assault and revenge porn crimes?
We do nothing when we hear of these “shenanigans” because if we actually acknowledged that violence against women is very real and we can all do something to stop it, we would have to change our behaviors. Instead, we change our opinions. This is a little thing called cognitive dissonance. If the behaviors of the frat boys or football players isn’t that big a deal because ‘boys will be boys’, we can go on as usual. If their behavior is no longer acceptable in our eyes, we need to change our behavior in some annoying way (e.g. stop associating with a fraternity, stop attending football games, sign a petition, write a letter to an administrator, stop laughing when someone makes a joke about frat boys and rape).
Our cognitive dissonance makes it safe to perpetrate sexual assault because privileged perpetrators know that it is nearly impossible to charge and convict someone of sexual assault. Even if they are convicted, the public will ultimately feel bad for the perpetrator and his “future being ruined”, rather than feel bad for the victim who “should’ve avoided these parties in the first place”.
What can universities do to prevent college campus sexual assault and sexual harassment?
(1) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012.
(2) Frintner, M. P., & Rubinson, L. (1993). Acquaintance rape: The influence of alcohol, fraternity membership, and sports team membership. Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 19(4), 272-284.
(3) Humphrey, S. E., & Kahn, A. S. (2000). Fraternities, athletic teams, and rape. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 15, 1313-1320.
(4) Krebs, C. P., Lindquist, C. H., Warner, T. D., Fisher, B. S., & Martin, S. L. (2007). The campus sexual assault (CSA) study. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, US Department of Justice.
(5) Citron, D. K., & Franks, M. A. (2014). Criminalizing revenge porn. Wake Forest Law Review, 49, 345.
(6) Rothenberg, P. S. (Ed.). (2004). White privilege: Essential readings on the other side of racism. Macmillan.
(7) Davis, K. E., Ace, A., & Andra, M. (2000). Stalking perpetrators and psychological maltreatment of partners: Anger-jealousy, attachment insecurity, need for control, and break-up context. Violence and Victims, 15, 407-425.
Photo Source: Dollar Photo Club
This article is featured on The Huffington Post.
There is nothing new, unique, or even creative about Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s just the latest installment of pop culture messages that teach girls and young women that truly hot and irresistible love includes some element of violence and danger.
These messages start when you’re little with Beauty and the Beast. As a girl, you learn to be nice and patient with an abusive partner, and as long as you remain so, he will change his behavior and transform into a Prince. It doesn’t matter that he’s throwing things at you, locking you up in a room, not letting you eat without him, not letting you get to your father…he will change…you just need to tame him. But Beauty and the Beast isn’t real….
When you get a little older, these messages continue with the Twilight series. You see Bella fall for a vampire with a basic instinct to kill her. You learn to put up with stalking and harassing as you try to prevent him from killing you. To do so, just leave your friends, family, and identity behind to become just like him (a vampire). Bella and Edward teach you not to get too close, because that would end in death. In fact, when they eventually do have sex, he almost does kill her! Let’s get real. Bella displays 3 classic traits of a victim in an abusive relationship: She has intense low self-esteem; She loves the bad-boy (she only starts to have feelings for nice-guy Jacob when he turns into a werewolf); and she’s thrilled by the violent and dangerous acts of Edward (they aren’t red flags to her at all). Edward displays 4 hallmark traits of an abuser: He warns her away from him, only to increase her desire; He is possessive and tries to isolate her from her family and friends, he even incapacitates her car so she can’t get away; He stalks her constantly and when he can’t, he uses his vampire superpower to stalk her through others’ thoughts; and he has an intense temper but it’s not his fault because he’s a vampire. But Twilight isn’t real….
Now that you’re an adult, the messages are solidified with Fifty Shades of Grey. Emotionally intimate and tantric sex? Nah…who wants that? Let’s just keep getting abused. Some more stalking, some threats, get tied up for a day (literally)…You’re now a sex slave who hasn’t consented to it, but you love it, right? Christian Grey also happens to show classic abuser signs: he warns Anastasia away by telling her he’s not good for her, he stalks her by deliberately tracing her mobile phone to find out where she is, and he attempts to control and isolate her by having her sign a non-disclosure agreement (so that she can’t discuss what goes on in their sexual relationship). Super healthy! Then to top it all off, he actually rapes her: “‘No,’ I protest, kicking him off.” Christian replies, “If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet, too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you. Keep quiet. Katherine is probably outside listening, right now.” You learn that it is not really rape if you like it and as E.L. James writes, Anastasia does feel pleasure while she’s being raped. That message isn’t confusing at all when we are trying to combat college campus sexual assault on a national level. But Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t real….
So what? If these stories aren’t real and have no influence on our cultural representation of romance, why are they the same story? Cultivation Theory tells us we construct our ideas of reality through the images and messages around us, whether we are conscious of it or not (1). The popularity of these stories alone displays how much validity girls have given to these characters as representations of true love and it really makes it clear how the problems with sexual and romantic violence in our culture get covered up in ways that we don’t even notice.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a hot, intense, romantic love story as much as anyone….but Fifty Shades of Grey is not it. There are many movies that are truly hotter. More importantly, we rarely get the message that you can have hot and satisfying sex without experiencing pain or humiliation. In fact, both men and women report being more sexually satisfied during sex with someone they love and trust (2).
It is important to note that a common fantasy women report is wanting to be dominated sexually (3). HOWEVER, domination is wanted when it is consensually agreed upon and does not occur outside of the bedroom. This type of domination is sometimes referred to as ‘light bondage’. For example, wanting your partner to tell you what sexual acts to do, wanting a blindfold, or wanting your hands tied. This type of domination fantasy doesn’t come from a desire to be hurt or humiliated, but stems from a desire to let go. If someone you trust is in control, you get to experience sexual pleasure without the pressure of having to ask for what you want. It is rarer that the domination fantasy extends to physical pain or emotional insults, or acts that can be considered BDSM (Bondage and Discipline, Sadism and Masochism). Even so, true practitioners of consensual BDSM do something called preparing and repairing. Meaning, they lovingly spend time together before the sex act, usually connecting emotionally on some level and will discuss the types of play they want to do. After the sex act, they cuddle and connect while talking about what worked and didn’t work. Fifty Shades is not a depiction of consensual domination fantasy or consensual BDSM.
Fifty Shades is less of an erotic love story and more of a stalker’s handbook. Please take some time to think about the girls and women who endure these types of relationships. One in 3 women have experienced relationship violence in America, a rate which has reached epidemic proportions (4). There is no happily ever after for women in these relationships. I would encourage you to get to get involved with V-Day, check out Love Is Respect, and celebrate Teen Dating Violence awareness month to help eradicate violence toward women instead of romanticizing violence toward women.
(1) Potter, W. J. (1993). Cultivation theory and research. Human Communication Research, 19(4), 564-601.
(2) Herbenick, D. (2014). Sex, love, intimacy, and orgasm: Integrating sex ed and new findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior. Oral presentation at the National Sex Ed Conference. East Rutherford, NJ.
(3) Joyal, C. C., Cossette, A., & Lapierre, V. (2014). What Exactly Is an Unusual Sexual Fantasy?. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Advanced online publication.
(4) Alhabib, S., Nur, U., & Jones, R. (2010). Domestic violence against women: Systematic review of prevalence studies. Journal of Family Violence, 25(4), 369-382.
Photo Source: Dollar Photo Club
Many researchers who try to understand sexual development from a public health perspective have two choices for framing their research agenda: prevention of risk behaviors or promotion of positive behaviors. I’m interested in combining the two. I aim to understand how young people both prevent pregnancy, STIs, sexual assault, and teen dating violence as well as promote positive body image, pleasurable and satisfying relationships, and sexual agency to make the sexual choices they want to make on their own terms. More than half of all individuals are sexually active by age 18 (1), which suggests we should be more focused on sexual behavior as normative and therefore in need of understanding, instead of in need of preventing. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence (2).
Thus, I’m interested in how people develop sexual health from a psychological perspective. One of the ways in which people do this, is by developing a sense of their sexual self, or what is known as sexual esteem (3). This is likely not a very conscious decision process and one that we are rarely given permission to even consider in our culture. It may be obvious to most that men and women act or are expected to act differently when it comes to sexual attitudes and behaviors and thus, we may hypothesize that men and women would think differently about appraising their sexual self. However, when we tested gender differences in sexual esteem we didn’t find any. We did find differences in theassociations between sexual behaviors and sexual esteem between genders though.
We surveyed college students on a wide range of measures related to students’ demographic, behavioral, and relationship characteristics across 7 semesters of college. The survey we used to measure sexual esteem contained 10 items such as “I am a good sexual partner” and “I sometimes have doubts about my sexual competence.”
Overall, participants reported a moderate level of sexual esteem (mean, 2.5 on a scale of 0–4). They reported in the previous 12 weeks on average, they had kissed a partner on the lips 24 times, engaged in oral sex 4 times and engaged in penetrative sex (vaginal or anal) eight times. On average they had 1.4 kissing partners, but fewer partners for oral or penetrative sex. Between the first and fifth semesters, students had spent an average of 1.5 semesters in a romantic relationship.
Contraceptive use was common: Eighty-five percent of those who had penetrative sex in the past 12 weeks had used a method at least some of the time. Although sexual esteem was unrelated to gender, introducing gender interaction terms revealed that the number of penetrative sex partners in the last 12 weeks was significant only for men; the average level of sexual esteem rose from about 2.5 among those reporting no such partners to nearly 3.5 for those reporting approximately two.
Most notably, contraceptive use was associated with sexual esteem in different ways for women and men. Sexual esteem was lower among women who reported no contraceptive use during penetrative sex in the last 12 weeks than among those who reported use. Whereas, sexual esteem was higher among men reporting no contraception use than among those reporting any contraception use. Through the lens of hegemonic masculinity, men are more privileged sexually and therefore can insist on experiencing pleasure and passion over responsibility, whereas women bear the responsibilities of unwanted pregnancy and negative sexual stereotyping, making their sexual choices more burdensome (4, 5). We need to study this construct long term to see which develops first for men: no contraception use or higher sexual esteem in order to align prevention efforts to either ‘reel the boys sexual esteem in’ to promote safer behaviors, or to reconstruct what it means to be a sexual person for a young man.
We believe sexual esteem is an integral part of the development of physical, emotional, and social sexual health competencies. If we further explore which aspects of positive sexuality are associated with more sexual health behaviors and fewer sexual risk-taking behaviors, we could potentially transform approaches to prevention of sexual risk taking.
This study was published in the Journal of Sex Research:
Megan K. Maas & Eva S. Lefkowitz (2014): Sexual esteem in emerging adulthood: Associations with sexual behavior, contraception use, and romantic relationships, The Journal of Sex Research.
I was facilitating a workshop for parents the other night, and there was some confusion over the difference between gender and sexual identity. So, I thought I’d do a quick post on some terminology, and share this helpful video that is really simplistic, yet clear, and suitable for most ages. Understanding the differences in gender, sexual orientation, biological sex, and sexual behavior can be legitimately confusing unless you happen to have had a course on gender or sexuality. For example, many people think of gender in a binary way, but it is more widely accepted as a spectrum (1). There is also the issue of intersectionality, where an individual’s gender identity meets their sexual identity (2), highlighting the importance of considering the nuances of identity and not trying to simply put people in clearly marked boxes. Then, there is the whole issue of sexual behavior. For example, some heterosexually-identified women kiss or engage in other sexual behavior with other women (3), and like the video suggests, some heterosexually-identified priests don’t engage in any sexual behavior. Therefore, sexual behavior does not determine sexual identity. In sum, not everyone agrees on the best terminology to use, but here are some terms that are pretty widely accepted with definitions mostly from GLAAD:
Sex: The biological classification of people as male or female. At birth, infants are typically assigned a sex based on a combination of internal and external genitalia and in some cases, chromosomes.
Gender: The state of being or identifying with male or female characteristics that are typically based on socially and culturally constructed norms. Side note: People are usually excited to find out the gender of their baby through an ultrasound. Technically, you are finding out the sex, not the gender. You really won’t know the gender of your baby until your baby can tell YOU.
Gender role: A social or behavioral norm that an individual practices in order to display their identified gender to others.
Transgender: An individual who feels that his/her birth-assigned sex and his/her own internal sense of gender do not match.
Transsexual: A person who, through experiencing an intense, long-term discomfort resulting from feeling the inappropriateness of their assigned gender at birth and discomfort of their body, adapts their gender role and body (either through dress, hormone therapy, sex-reassignment surgery, etc.) to reflect and be congruent with their true gender identity.
Sexual Orientation: An individual’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to people of a particular sex or gender. A transgender person may be straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual. For example, a woman who transitions from female to male and is attracted to other men would likely identify as a gay man.
Bisexual: An individual who is physically, romantically, and/or emotionally attracted to men and women.
Gay: The adjective used to describe people who have enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attractions to people of the same sex. Typically, lesbian (n. or adj.) is often a preferred term for women.
Lesbian: A woman who has an enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction is to other women. Some lesbians may prefer to identify as gay (adj.) or as gay women.
Heterosexual: An adjective used to describe an individual’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to people of the opposite sex. These people are also referred to as straight.
Sexual Minority: An individual who has adopted a sexual identity that is not exclusively heterosexual.
Homosexual: A very old clinical term that is considered derogatory and offensive by many gay and lesbian people. Don’t use this term.
Queer: Used as an umbrella identity term encompassing lesbian, questioning people, gay men, bisexuals, non-labeling people, transgender folks, and anyone else who does not strictly identify as heterosexual. “Queer” originated as a derogatory word. Currently, it is being reclaimed by some people and used as a statement of empowerment. Some people identify as “queer” to distance themselves from the rigid categorization of “straight” and “gay”. Some transgender, lesbian, gay, questioning, non-labeling, and bisexual people, however, reject the use of this term due to its connotations of deviance and its tendency to gloss over and sometimes deny the differences between these groups.
(1) Diamond, L. M., & Butterworth, M. (2008). Questioning gender and sexual identity: Dynamic links over time. Sex Roles, 59, 365-376.
(2) Morgan, E. M. (2013). Contemporary issues in sexual orientation and identity development in emerging adulthood. Emerging Adulthood, 1, 52-66.
(3) Yost, M. R., & McCarthy, L. (2012). Girls gone wild?Heterosexual women’s same-sex encounters at college parties. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 36, 7-24.
About this Blog:
I'm here to help us discuss sexuality, gender, sexual media, and social media by integrating information from academic and mainstream sources. I do this so you can be informed about what is going on in the sex research world and apply the research to your life. I hope this process produces more sexually competent people who raise sexually competent kids.
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