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The term 'sexting' is a fusion of the words 'sex' and 'texting'. Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit content to another person electronically.

Exploring Digital Intimacy: The Art and Impact of Sexting.

The experiences of those who indulge in this type of communication can differ greatly. Although sexting is meant to be playful, it puts participants in a vulnerable position. There are those who will exploit this, either maliciously or because they lack understanding of consent. Even when there is consent, trust, and respect between those involved, it is difficult to be completely sure that a message of sexual nature will remain private.

What is sexting, and why do people sext?

Sexting is the sending and/or receiving of sexual content via electronic communication platforms such as online messaging boards, chat forums, SMS. Whether or not to indulge in sexting is a personal decision, as are the reasons for doing so and the choice of methods that come into play.

As with any other act of an intimate nature, you should ensure that both you and your partner are willing to participate in sexting and are informed about what it entails. Just because it’s happening virtually doesn’t mean that you need to do or say anything that makes you uncomfortable.

Sexting may include exchanging:

  • written sexual content
  • intimate live chat sessions
  • photos or videos of nudity or partial nudity
  • photos or videos of sexual intercourse
  • audio recordings of a sexual nature

Enhanced Communication: Exploring Sexting as a Valuable Option for Many

At its core, it’s just another way of communicating, and for a lot of people, having the option to sext can be quite helpful in some situations. Here are a few examples:

For those who wish to explore their sexuality without committing to physical acts

Pacing oneself is very important when engaging in intimate behaviour, and sexting can act as a bridge between flirting and physical intimacy.

For those who may have difficulty going out and meeting new people

Social anxiety, physical disability, or an intensive work schedule are just some of the reasons a person may not be able to physically go out on dates. Many rely on online messaging platforms for all kinds of communication, including that of a more intimate nature.

For those in committed relationships who wish to explore new forms of intimacy with their partner

Sexting can facilitate more open conversation (as some people may feel more comfortable talking about their thoughts and desires in text form) and provide additional tools for self-expression.

There are many things to take into account if you are considering sexting with someone. Here are some questions you might ask yourself:

What is my relationship with this person? Do I trust them?

You should only ever engage in intimate behaviour with someone you feel comfortable with. Intimacy makes us vulnerable, and there are those who consider vulnerability an invitation for abuse. Using an anonymous chat room can be exciting, but it pays to remember that you don’t know the intentions of the person on the other side. Never put yourself in a position that might be dangerous.

Am I truly okay with doing this?

It’s always okay to say no. It is not unusual to feel as if you should say yes sometimes, even if you don’t want to.  Not wanting to disappoint someone, having something to prove, or feeling like it’s easier just to go along are some of the reasons you may consider ignoring your inner voice. Stop. You should always be true to yourself. When in doubt, trust your gut feeling.

What makes me want to do this? Is it possible that I will regret it?

Sometimes the decision you want to make isn’t the right decision. Take a moment to think about the situation. What state of mind are you in? When it comes to data, ‘living in the moment’ can come with a price—once sent, you cannot unsend intimate content.

Am I being fair to the person I’m sexting?

While it’s crucial to consider how you are feeling, it is just as important to make sure you aren’t pressuring anyone else. It is possible to pressure someone without realising it. To avoid this, talk about what you’re about to do. Ask them questions, make sure there is a mutual understanding of where your boundaries lie.

It’s never okay to coerce a person into saying yes. Forced consent is not consent.

Is this the right time?

Consider the person you're sexting with and their situation. You wouldn't want to receive a provocative text or image during a work meeting or at a funeral service.

The dark side of sexting: bullying and blackmail

Online chat rooms and messaging platforms have become integral to the way we communicate. In many countries, it is common for teenagers to view sexting as a benign method of flirtation—despite the fact that in most countries the distribution of sexual content involving a minor is a criminal act.

While adolescents are curious explore their own minds and bodies, they are more susceptible than adults to potentially harmful outside influences. A teenager is more likely to engage in sexting that may not be sure about or participate in frivolous or coercive behaviour due to peer-pressure, to boost self-esteem, or as part of a joke.

If you are a parent, talking to your children about sexting could prevent them from getting caught up in a bad situation. Just as you might warn them about not getting into a car with strangers, safety concerns about online communication should be discussed as soon as your children have access to the internet.

The use of online platforms comes with its own set of risks—online communication leaves a record, and we have little control over what happens with the content that we share. Even when using an app that promises captured content will disappear after a predetermined period has passed, copies may still be saved by a third party. Personal content gained this way can be used for nefarious purposes.

It is disturbingly common for verbal, physical, or psychological abuse based on a private exchange of sexual messages. Sexting content can become fuel for cyberbullying: images or texts are forwarded and ridiculed in order to cause hurt and embarrassment, and strangers on the internet are all too willing to participate in virtual hatred.

Unintended Resurfacing: The Unpredictable Nature of Previously Shared Consensual Content

Even content that has been shared consensually, years ago, can pop up unexpectedly in a much more frightening context without the permission of those involved. Revenge porn is the distribution of sexual content as an act of revenge for a real or perceived transgression. 

Unfortunately, unauthorised use of sexual content is most often carried out by the person who was entrusted with it in the first place.

Revenge porn can be used as blackmail to force the victim into performing more sexual acts, continue an unwanted relationship, or intimidate them into silence. Images are often accompanied by contact information and home addresses, sometimes with invitations to harass and abuse the individual.

Victims of revenge porn and other types of cyberbullying report feeling terrified, stressed, depressed, and anxious. Concentration levels, mood, energy, motivation, sleep, and appetite all suffer in the face of threats to one’s safety, personal identity, work, and relationships—sometimes lasting decades after the event.

What to do if you’re a victim

When faced with situations that seem out of our control it can be difficult to know what the best course of action is. Here are a few things that might help if you find yourself in this situation:

  • Don’t delete anything! Although this will probably be your first instinct, it’s not a good idea. The moment you start erasing the evidence, you give the blackmailer more control.
  • Don’t give anything to the blackmailer! No more photos or texts, no answers to their questions, nothing at all. Don’t respond.
  • Resist the temptation to negotiate. No matter how hopeless you feel, don't bid. This indicates a willingness to cooperate with the blackmailer.
  • Plan for the worst-case scenario. Taking the time to understand how an embarrassing leak might affect you and how you can react if it happens is a move that blackmailers don't expect—they are basing their actions on your fear alone. This is a way of regaining agency.
  • Don't let shame stop you from getting help! You are not the only one—it can happen to anyone! Talk to your friends, relatives, teachers; call the cops or talk to a lawyer.
  • Most countries have helplines designed precisely for such situations. If you have access to the internet, you also have access to a helpline. Keywords: safe (or secure) internet.

The important thing is to practice safety when broadening your boundaries. As long as you are safe, sexting can be a way to explore your sexuality, enhance intimacy, or simply have fun.

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