According to Katherine O’Brien, head of media and policy research at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who conducted the research into the sexual habits of teens, “sexting could be taking the place of actual sex.”
But for a generation dubbed ‘Generation Sensible’ with so few smoking or binge drinking, is this surprising? According to BPAS, this new wave of sexting simply puts less pressure of the physical aspect a relationship for today’s youth.
The average age for young people to lose their virginity in the UK and US in 2018 is not the horror story we all imagine it to be – in fact, a survey showed the average age people drop their V-cards is 17.4. While teen pregnancy ratings are at an all-time low, with the under-18 conception rate currently sitting at around 18.9 per 1,000 women in the age group.
However, despite this positivity, there were downsides to today’s youth’s obsession with doing everything online, including sex. Warnings to teens over the dangers of sexting and sending nude photos has largely gone unnoticed, with three quarters of the teenagers who had sent a text saying they would do it again. A survey conducted last December showed 34% of those questioned had sent nudes or other sexual images. But ‘sextortion’ – where someone is blackmailed after sending sexually explicit pictures or videos – is becoming an increasingly prominent problem. According to the National Crime Agency, there were 1,304 cases of sextortion reported in 2017, up from 428 in 2015.
Plus, sexting laws can be messy, especially when it comes to nudes. The US laws against sexting for minors can be particularly harsh. In March, a 14-year-old Minnesota girl was charged with distribution of child pornography after she sent a nude via Snapchat to a boy she liked, who then went on to make a copy and distributed it to classmates without her permission. If convicted, the girl will be on the sex offender’s register for the next 10 years of her life.
In the UK, creating and sharing explicit images of children is illegal, even if the person making them is a minor. But, according to the NSPCC, as of January 2016 in England and Wales, if a young person is found creating or sharing images, the police can choose to record that although a crime has been committed, they will not press charges because they do not consider it to be in the public interest to do so.
Sexting, however, seems to have a more positive benefit. “There’s that ease, you can do it from the privacy of your own home,” said O’Brien. “A lot of the young people we surveyed saw sexting as a positive thing. It felt easier because they could fit it into their lifestyle, which is largely at home.”
Mel Gadd, projects co-ordinator at sexual health charity FPA (formerly the Family Planning Clinic), said, “From what I’ve seen, [sexting is] quite common as a flirting mechanism or delaying mechanism for extended foreplay and putting off having sex. That kind of thing is fine as long as there is consent, it’s not taking place in an abusive situation and the young people involved are over 18.”
All this points to a significant shift in our attitudes towards sex. Many of us will remember attempting to flirt over intermittent dial-up internet, of using the limited functions offered to us by MSN Messenger, but eventually we’d have to face our crush IRL. Now, today’s teens are completely comfortable letting a romance blossom online, from the comfort of their own home – and it has a particular pertinence for those in a relationship that is long-distance: “One person we spoke to talked about sexting as a way to be closer to her partner when she hadn’t seen him for a while,” said O’Brien.
Parents will no doubt be relieved their children can engage in sexual activity without even having to touch another human being - one less thing to be worried about...
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