Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Questions about sexting

May 1, 2013

Q. I’ve been kind of wondering what sexting is because I’ve been looking up stuff online. Is sexting better than actually having sex in a parent’s mind? It sounds dumb, but me and my girlfriend have been talking about it lately. My girlfriend has been asking me if I want to have sex, and I told her I wasn’t so sure. I don’t know if I should, and I don’t know what would happen if my parents found out. We haven’t actually sent pictures or anything. But if we do, what do you think our parents would do? A bunch of my friends sext, and I was wondering if it could be an alternative to having sex, you know? Especially if there were no pictures. I don’t want to hurt my girlfriend’s feelings by saying no, but then again I want to be a virgin until I’m married. –15-year-old male

Mary Jo’s response: Two first thoughts: 1. Thank you for thinking and planning your behavior. 2. Please continue to make thoughtful, mature decisions. I believe sex is for adults; I believe that no individual should be pressured to do anything sexual. Waiting to have sex is a smart choice. How would your parents react? Why not start a discussion and ask them?

Sexting is most commonly defined as the creation and transmission (sending) of sexual images or sexually suggestive messages. Sexting can include any digital media, such as email, cellphones or social networking sites. Sexting also can include producing and sending images of oneself, receiving those images or forwarding received images to other people. I’d like to talk with you about some consequences of sexting.

There are two serious consequences to sexting. The first is legal. If a young person creates an image that meets criminal definitions of child pornography, sending that image can have long-lasting results. Sexually explicit images of minors under age 18 are considered child pornography, even if the minors create the images themselves. A second serious consequence includes a very real concern about cyberbullying, reputation and social standing. Once an image is “out there,” the sender has no control over its distribution. An individual may be bullied as a result of such incidents and may feel isolated at school.

Some advice on using media:

• Never take an image of yourself that you wouldn’t want EVERYONE to see. That includes your classmates, your teachers, your parents and your future employers.

• Before you hit send, remember you are giving up all control over that image or text. THINK!

• If you forward a picture of someone who is underage, you are as responsible for the image as the original sender.

• Report any nude images you receive to a trusted adult right away. Get parents or teachers involved immediately.

Please stand strong for what you believe.

Q. I know for a fact that my friend is sexting her boyfriend. I told my mom, and she was shocked. She said she didn’t believe it because my friend is only 12 and I just turned 13 and I shouldn’t tell tales. I only told her because I’m afraid my friend will get in trouble. I know she sent him a picture of her top body without clothes on. I’m hurt that my mom acted like that. I feel like I shouldn’t tell her anything again so I’m asking you to put this in your column and if you think that it’s possible that someone my age is actually sexting, you could answer “yes, it’s possible,” and maybe my mom would listen to me and maybe I’d give her another chance. –13-year-old female

Mary Jo’s response: Yes, it’s possible. Please give your mom another chance. I’m always thrilled when someone your age can talk with a parent about sexting and relationships and the weird stuff teens hear on the bus and at school.

If you’re a parent some day, you will have insight – a better awareness – of what it feels like to watch your child grow up. It’s so strange. In my heart, my adult children are still “my babies.” Your mom looks at you and sees the little girl she’s been raising since your birth. Twelve and 13 are very young ages. It would be a lot easier if adult problems weren’t happening to young people your age. Sadly, they are. I want you to give your mom another chance for two reasons: She can really help you as you grow into adulthood, and she needs you as much as you need her. Talk with her. Tell her if you are hurt by her reactions. I’m honored that you came to me, but I think the first thing you need to do is share your feelings with your mom. Don’t hide from her. Tell her how much you want her to be there for you.

Let’s check out some facts. A number of research studies look at how often young people sext. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy study is most commonly quoted. Their data states that 20 percent of teens overall, 22 percent of teen girls, 18 percent of teen boys and 11 percent of young teen girls (ages 13 to 16) have sent nude or semi-nude pictures electronically or have posted them online. If the study is limited to posting sexually suggestive messages, the numbers are higher: 39 percent of all teens, 37 percent of teen girls and 40 percent of teen boys. A full 48 percent of teens say they have received such messages.

Very few studies exist with data taken only from very young teens. I located a study of 300 girls that reinforced the National Campaign’s statistics and stated girls first receive sexting messages at age 10 but don’t typically send them until age 12. The study said that girls engage in these activities for four main reasons: 82 percent say it’s to get attention; 66 percent say it’s to be “cool”; 59 percent do it because they want to imitate the “popular” girls; and 55 percent say they did it to find a boyfriend.

I’m proud of you for talking with your mom. I’m proud of you for doing the right thing. Keep it up!



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