Dean Borgman, “Nude Photos Among Youthful Cell Phone Users,” Center for Youth Studies, 11Dec08.
There are plenty of studies of the use and influence of television, music, and film on youth and young adults-especially as it relates to sexual and violent behaviors. Now comes a study of youth and nude photos. It’s become a widespread phenomenon of 2008. Tied into the porn industry and exhibitionism, publishing nude photos has grown in popularity during the first decade of the 21st century. But nude photos via cell phones, almost like valentine cards or innocent love notes, have become widespread across the U.S. and around the world this year.
According to Nielsen Mobile about 80% of teens 13-17, and 93% of those 18-24, use cell phones. High schools in Salem, NH were all abuzz with talk of an electronic photo of a topless 15-year-old girl, then of an eighth grade girl; then two more naked and nearly naked photos were being shared on students’ phones in November of this year. Two Seattle high school cheerleaders were recently suspended after nude pictures of them spread through student cell phones.
In October a 15-year-old Ohio girl was arrested on three counts: photographing a minor (herself) nude, possessing pornographic tools, and distributing such pornographic materials to minors (her friends). These being felony charges, it was suggested that she be registered as a sex offender as part of her punishment. That charge has been dropped, but it’s raised national discussion.
Stephanie Reitz in an Associated Press article (4June08), who’s studied this practice describes it this way:
Passing notes in study hall or getting your best friend to ask a boy if he likes you or, you know LIKES you, is so last century. Nowadays, teenagers are snapping naked pictures of themselves on their cell phones and sending them to their boyfriends or girlfriends…. Some parents are aghast.
She goes on to list many incidences this year:
Several students’ nude self-portraits recently spread through the wealthy NYC bedroom community (of Westport, CT).
School administrators in Santa Fe, Texas, confiscated dozens of cell phones from students in May after nude photos of two junior high girls began circulating.
In suburban Syracuse, N.Y., several teenage girls sent naked pictures on their phones to their boy friends, only to learn that another boy had collected them from the Web and was trying to sell a DVD of them.
In Utah, a 16-year-old boy was charged with a felony for sending nude photos of himself over a cell phone to several girls.
Four middle school students-two boys and two girls-took nude photos of themselves on their cell phones and traded the images back and fourth, in Daphne, Alabama, authorities said.
In LaCrosse, Wisconsin, a 17-year-old boy was recently charged with child pornography, sexual exploitation of a child and defamation for allegedly posting nude photos of his 16-year-old ex-girlfriend on his MySpace page. The girl had taken the pictures with her cell phone and emailed them to her boyfriend. About this case, sheriff’s Sgt. Mark Yehle (offered an explanation):
“They (the pictures) were pretty graphic. I think (the girls) do it to impress their boyfriends. When they break up, he ‘vents,’ in his words, by posting them. He apparently didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. He didn’t know it was illegal.”
Sgt. Jim Smith is a Connecticut police officer who investigates cybercrime and online child pornography and conducts seminars “warning parents about the use of cell phones to send nude pictures.” One of the things he tell them:
“It’s often a spur of the moment that they’re not thinking about where those images might end up. They might think it’s just fun and games at the time they do it, but these images can really spread like wildfire.”
Teen response and opinions vary. According to Sharon Jayson (“Nude photos: A new way to flirt?” USAToday, 9Dec08) high school senior Mayron Gezaw, 17, of Fairfax, VA, tells about a nude photo of a classmate that showed up on her phone last year:
The whole class was sharing it by the end of the day…. The guys said, ‘She’s so hot.’ The girls were more like ‘I feel sorry for the girl,’ or they just lost all respect for her.
And Matthew Younger, 17, of Takoma Park, MD, tells how he’s seen such pictures on other people’s phones:
I feel pretty sure if you ask any high school boy across America, they’ll say yes, they’ve seen this kind of thing. It’s incredibly widespread.
Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU), which has been studying teen tastes and behavior for many years, conducted a study between 25Sep and 3Oct, 2008 of 1,280 respondents, 653 teens and 627 20-26 year-olds. The study was sponsored by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (See full study at www.thenationalcampaign.org/sextech/)
• 20% of teens and 33% young adults (20-26) say they posted a nude or semi-nude picture of themselves
• 20% or one in five teen girls (including 11% 13-16) say they’ve electronically sent or posted online nude or semi-nude photos of themselves
• 18% of teen boys say they’ve shared nude or provocative photos of themselves
• 14% of teens and 17% of young adults have shared such a picture or video with someone other than the one it was originally meant for
• 29% of teens and 32% of young adults have had a picture originally meant to be private shared with them
• 39% of teens and 59% of young adults have sent messages with sexually suggestive messages
Bill Albert, who is The National Campaign’s chief program officer and spokesperson, says he is concerned about the link between what happens on line and what happens in real life.
What young people report is that this sort of online behavior contributes to a casual hookup culture. The overwhelming majority of teens and young adults don’t do this, but when you get numbers like 20 percent, and higher for young adults, that passes the threshold of concern.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. What is your first impression of this article and its topic? Do you think this trend should be a matter of concern? By whom, and how, do you think it should be discussed?
2. Do you agree that responsibility for those who are being hurt, whether knowingly or unknowingly, must be shared by the teenagers (and young adults) themselves, by their parents, and by society?
3. Can you trace developments in society and media that have led to this phenomenon? How has our culture changed since the 1950s, and since the 1990s? How have music, television, advertisements changed? How have the Internet and cell phones changed the lives of young people? Then, what are the universals about adolescent life in modern societies? And how have consumerism and exploited “sexualism” branded their identities and shaped their attitudes?
4. How does extensive life in a virtual world affect real relationships and behaviors?
5. Are there antidotes for a toxic environment? What is grounding young people who are treating themselves and others with real respect?
1. There is a world view and attitude that assumes no real truth, beauty, or joy except what seems thrilling, pushing the envelope, adventurous, fun or momentarily pleasurable, strictly in the opinion of each person. Stripping oneself of protection and revealing all that’s private and mysteriously personal about oneself, and sending it out into the digital world, or worse, taking what is personal and uniquely private about another and sending it on to others to the embarrassment of victims and momentary glee of viewers, are examples of such a worldview and attitude.
2. Since the sending of nude photos are primarily, as experts are telling us, rather spontaneous acts without careful thought about consequences, it is important that this matter be discussed at home from young ages (4th grade and up), in middle and high school classrooms, in churches and youth groups.
3. If for no other reason, real respect (for self and for others) is a key answer to this problem.
4. For people of faith, the unique creation of human individuality and sexuality, makes nudity and sex precious treasures to be guarded with wise reasoning and self-restraint.