On Sexting, Shaming, and So-Called Comedy
Sexting Caught in the Act – Depravedlipstix.
Two months ago, this blog post — on the zomg!dangers of sexting –turned me into a human smoke machine. I have yet to fully recover. Hence: a blog.
I wonder if I should have had lower expectations. I mean, author Nicole Dauenhauer, admits — right off the bat — that her views are shaped by a Lifetime movie. (With that kind of sourcing, we’re probably lucky to avoid propaganda about how sexting, you know, kills puppies and makes rainbows cry. Although to be honest, we don’t avoid it by a wide margin.) Dauenhauer acknowledges that “Lifetime’s serious and sobering take on the digital phenomenon was fictional” but quickly undermines that fact with a fiction of her own, a claim that “the actual fad is all too shamefully real.”
Now — for starters — that ‘fad’ isn’t. Comprehensive research on teen sexting practices does not support the alarmist rhetoric. According to a 2011 study, only 2.5% of youth have sent nude images by text; a mere 1% have sent images that include butts, breasts, or genitals. And a statistically insignificant number of recipients have distributed those images. If one in every 100 persons constitutes an epidemic, why are we not hearing about the shocking number of asexual teens? Why no ZomgAsexualPlague?
Probably because asexuality, while certainly not without its share of stigmatization, is a really poor basis for slut-shaming.
Like so many before her, Dauenhauer begins her slut-shaming with a hearty dose of protectionism. Your personal experience of sexting is irrelevant. What, you’re finding the practice pleasurable? Never mind that; you’re naive and doomed. “You might think it’s fun the first few times around,” Dauenhauer warns, “but sooner or later it’s going to wreak havoc on your otherwise tidy life.”
Now, for starters, I don’t know anyone whose life is “tidy.” Most of us appear, in my estimation, more messy than not. But that’s not my real issue here. My issue is that sexting, like any other form of sexual interplay does not necessarily lead to anything. Just as (for example) flirting, kissing, and intercourse can feel many different ways and lead many different places, sexting has no “inevitable” outcome. Nor is it necessarily the “complete and utter nonsense” Dauenhauer claims. There are as many reasons to sext, as many possible experiences of sexting, and as many outcomes to sexting, as there are for acting on one’s desires in person. But hey, it’s new technology (oh nos, the sky is falling!) meets sexuality (hell, people! handbasket!) — and that’s fodder for fear-mongering, squared.
According to Dauenhauer, sexting will destroy your relationship, your employment prospects, and your pending bid for political office. Sexting will get you caught cheating because — in spite of the research suggesting most sexting occurs within monogamous relationships — Dauenhauer characterizes the practice as the search for that exciting little fix on the side. A search, mind you, that will lead to career-ending accidents, when you (inevitably) send your saucy little text message to your boss instead of your boo. In short, you must abandon sexting entirely because if you don’t, you’ll inevitably land in hot water. And frankly, it will be your fault: “You had to spice things up, didn’t you? Sucks to be you.”
That is an actual line from the article, people.
You and your perpetual need for intimacy!
Except — in Daunehauer’s world — sexting cannot coexist with intimacy. In this framework, People Who Sext cannot possibly communicate with their partners about the what’s, when’s, and whether’s of sexting –to clarify when such a text might be enjoyable. Sexters cannot test waters, gauge responses, and make use of mutuality and consent. They will inevitably text their lusty messages too soon, weird out their partners, and lose both their cheap thrills and their lasting partnerships in the process.
I mean, Lifetime said so!
Arguments like Dauenhauer’s rest on two fundamentally shaming tactics: First, only certain kinds of people sext. And second, if you risk being one of those people, the bad shit that happens to you will be your fault.
Does this sound familiar? It should. It should because these are the same arguments that say dressing a certain way invites rape. They are anti-feminist, slut-shaming, rape culture nonsense, dressed up in digiculture threads. Like the kind of person who “gives men the wrong idea” or “asks to be” sexually harassed and assaulted, the kind of person who sexts — in Dauenhauer’s book –sends “nasty little sexts” when they’ve “got their freak on” rather than “zip[ping] up and behav[ing] like a respectable human being — even if [they] have to fake it.” (Obviously, as pleasure-driven harlots, you are neither respectable nor human. Everyone knows respectable humans aren’t sexual!)
But Dauenhauer’s post, like so many missteps before it, is intended as humor. So why not brush it off? Why dissect it (two months later) like the Angry Feminist Blogger of lore?
Because this type of thinking isn’t funny. And it isn’t rare. It is so not funny and not rare that it’s dangerous. As fab blogger and activist Super Mattachine explains so well, subversion is funny. Cliche — and oppression is, by definition, cliche — isn’t funny. And, when we perpetuate it, we degrade humor and people simultaneously.
Whether or not we’re personally drawn to sexual expression and communication via text, its defense is becoming more and more crucial in defenses of sexual rights. Sext-shaming is just one of the newer cards in the deck of tried and trite slut-shaming tropes. But frankly, in the year 2012, texts are one way we communicate. They’re one way we communicate with partners — both monogamous and not, long-term and not — and with potential partners. They’re one more way we, as humans, interact. If we would not advise people to cut sexuality out of conversation or touch or facial expression — why advise it over text?
Like all actions, sexting involves risk. Risks we can choose to take on, to manage, and to minimize as responsibly as we would any other sexual act. But in the end, the decision to sext does not wreak nearly as much havoc as — can you guess? — the choice to slut-shame. The choice to sexually police.
The choice to stitch someone else’s scarlet letter and call it comedy.