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Unwanted and Dangerous: Sexting Culture

There I was, sitting in front of my computer screen, thinking, “what did I do wrong?” Was this my fault? Maybe the shirt I wore in my profile picture was too low, maybe the way I presented myself on social media was a screaming invitation for sexual messages and inappropriate comments. My first encounter with the sexting culture of my generation’s dating world, happened when I was least expecting it, with whom I was least expecting. We were friends, shared stories about our lives, had been on an innocent date once upon a time. He was far from a threat—at least that’s what I had thought. But what appeared to have been a harmless conversation, quickly turned to a rapid fire of sexual gifs alluding to the boner he had and comments about how “sexy” I, and my body, had been. Though he tried to make up for his disgustingly inappropriate messages by showering me with compliments, I felt no less than violated.

These situations didn’t seem to be a rarity in the world around me, yet naively I never thought it would happen to me. People my age have grown up in in a life consumed by Snapchats and Twitter followers; we order food online, study online, date online, now, we’ve even resorted to having sex online. But much like sex outside of cyberspace, there seems to be a grave issue concerning consent in sexting situations. Although I had not been at fault for his sexual advances, I still couldn’t help but wonder if I had asked for this. Was there a reason that he had found me an appropriate target? Did he believe that I was the type of girl, the type of person, to fall for such a trap? Though I should have been furious that someone would treat me in such a degrading manner, I felt surprisingly guilty and sad instead. I spent the time following his unsolicited sexts looking at my profile, over examining my pictures and posts and retweets to assure myself I was not the slut he made me feel like. But when I finally came to my senses and realized that my self-worth was not tied to a horny twenty-one-year-old boy, I stopped to ask, why was I blaming myself?

I tried so desperately to see things from his side, to gain an unbiased perspective of it all. But stepping into his shoes left me only to find one thing, I could never imagine a situation in which I would feel tempted to message someone in such a manner, no matter how sexually they may have portrayed themselves on their social media account. Did women in general ever feel such temptations? And then I wondered, had men been victims of this inappropriate sexting even a fraction as much as women had been? In my own personal experience, I have heard endless tales of the man who “slides into” a woman’s DM’s hoping to score naked photos and/or dirty talk. Yet, the idea of a woman sexually messaging a man out of random seemed to be much more of a foreign concept. But why was this?  Did sexting simply follow the reoccurring pattern of male initiation? Or was there something particularly unique about sexting that gave men confidence to send penis photos to complete strangers with no remorse? 

I am not suggesting that all cases of “sexting” in our culture are not consensual, or not enjoyable on both parts—male and female. But just like any other sort of sex, these virtual encounters leave women with much more to lose than for men. Even if a woman does welcome in these online “suitors” with open arms, there still lays hesitation in the finger that presses ‘send’. We are instructed, as women, that if we do decide to send a nude photograph that we should never, ever dare to show our faces. Every move we make in this act of sexting, must be made with the possibility of being exposed, in mind. In seconds, our bodies could become viral, while our reputations are tarnished. Even when sexting takes place in committed relationships, a voice in the back of our mind still reminds us that all it might take is one messy breakup to lead to public humiliation. I can’t help but wonder if men share these same hesitations? Is every sent dick pic preceded with a fear that their penis might appear on social media networks with no warning?

Whether or not these acts of sexting are completely consensual or completely out of random, women time and time again were left at a loss, while men were in a situation of gain or completely unscathed by this supposed “innocent flirting.” Some of you might believe things such as “unsolicited dick picks” as completely platonic, “just for fun,” and simply part of the culture we live in. But I challenge you, for just a second, to put yourself in mine, and so many other women’s, situation. Imagine someone making you feel as if you were nothing but a sexual object, left for the world to play with. Try to picture how violating it might be to have someone talk about your body and what they’d like to do to it, when you were simply scrolling through your social media newsfeed.

Although, as I said before, I understand that these sexting situations are not always emotional, harmful ones. It can be a fun way to spice up a relationship and bond with your partner. However, even in the most committed of relationships, we are still warned against the dangers of the full-face nude. No woman is safe from being potentially leaked. It is almost as if we are giving a man control over our reputation and our bodies with a single press of a button.

I can only ask, will we as girls will ever be able to win in the game that is sexting culture?



Editor-in-chief of Her Campus Utah - Double major in English and Gender Studies - Lover of Oxford comma, hater of patriarchy. 
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