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  • Hubert Marlin

The coercive violence of Sexting

According to Wikipedia, Sexting is , “the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs, primarily between mobile phones.” Most people aren’t aware of the dangers really involved when sending a sexually explicit picture through their phone or the Internet. Over the past several years, the number of people Sexting has increased while the ages of those people creating the sexually explicit images and videos have decreased. Young people are impulsive as their prefrontal cortex, which plays a significant role in impulse control, is not yet fully developed. They are struggling with managing a combination of fluctuating hormone levels, emotional and sexual feelings and peer pressure, and they have not yet developed the maturity to manage these issues safely or wisely. Often, young people ‘sext’ hoping to start a relationship or to gain positive comments about their body image to aid their self-esteem. At times, they are pressurized into it by a friend or someone older. here is a risk that their image will be made available to others. This leads to a high level of distress for a young person, and it can lead to them resorting to ‘coping’ in unhealthy ways such as self-harming, isolating themselves and restricting their dietary intake It can also lead to high levels of anxiety and the development, or exacerbation of, depressive symptoms. Young people are often worried about the consequences of their actions too late in the day and will hide what they have done while dwelling on it, not sleeping because of it and not concentrating in class.

If adolescents do not get the response, they wished for from sending the image or video, this can have a negative impact on their self-esteem and body image. They may also experience bullying that further knocks their self-esteem. Young people who engage in sexting are also more likely to engage in other risky sexual activity which again, can have a negative impact on their mental state. Some young people are coerced into sexting, or blackmailed into more sexting, and this can lead to trauma. Images that young people have sent could reappear on websites years later, leading to yet another deterioration in that person’s mental state at that stage and interfere with their future prospects

Many romantic relationships involve intimate photo sharing—either willingly or under some type of duress. The mere fact that a sexually explicit photo was sent does not automatically mean the sender wanted to share it. Some senders are persuaded to sext with partners as a result of persuasion, manipulation, or coercion.

In addition to anxiety over inadvertent or intentional disclosure of compromising text messages or photos, research indicates that coerced sexting is also linked with darker consequences, such as intimate partner aggression and negative mental health.

Jody M. Ross et al. in “Sexting Coercion as a Component of Intimate Partner Polyvictimization” (2019) examined the role of sexting coercion within the larger issue of intimate partner abuse (IPA). They define “sexting,” which they note is a combination of “sex” and “texting,” as the “sending of sexually explicit messages or images by cell phone.”

They note that sexting may be defined broadly, as related activity may include filming and sending explicit self-videos, or using social media to send sexual content. Adding the additional element of coercion, Ross et al. defined sexting coercion to include “experiencing coercion from an intimate partner to send sexually explicit text messages.”

In their research, they used a sample of 885 young adults (301 males and 584 females) to investigate whether sexting coercion was a form of intimate partner aggression that could create a risk of sexual, psychological, and attachment problems. In their sample, 40 percent had experienced coercion with respect to sexual behavior or sexting—or both. In terms of gender differences, women were more likely than men to have been coerced into sexting behavior.

Ross et al. conclude that their data suggests that digital sexual victimization constitutes a new component of “IPA polyvictimization,” with the potential to increase negative effects experienced by individuals who are subjected to intimate partner aggression in multiple forms.

Specifically, Ross et al. found coercive sexting to be linked to attachment dysfunction, sexual problems, and more generally, symptoms of negative mental health. As compared to other forms of dating aggression, they note the unique potential of sexting coercion, especially when it prompts unwanted sexting, to produce future psychological trauma because of the victim's concern and anxiety about the recipient sharing the images. Other research links sexual coercion and coerced sexting. HyeJeong Choi et al. (2016) examined the association between sexual coercion and sexting in adolescent women.[ii]Using a sample of 450 females from ethnically diverse backgrounds and an average of 19 years old, they found that in-person sexual coercion was significantly associated with being asked to send a naked image, as well as receiving one. They conclude that sexting can function as “an online extension of offline forms of sexual coercion.”

Poco D. Kernsmith et al. in a piece entitled “Online, Offline, and Over the Line” (2018) studied the relationship between coercive sexting and other maladaptive dating behaviors in young people.[iii]They found coercive sexting was more frequent in high school than at younger ages and found boys were more likely to pressure a partner to sext than were girls. They also found coercive sexting to be associated with other types of sexual coercion including insisting on unprotected sex, and the use of threats...

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