April 25, 2019 | 52° F

FOWLER: Shame is too common in female sexuality

Opinions Column: Sex and the City

Recently, my younger brother told me that in his high school the police from our town gave a 1-hour presentation on current issues facing teens. The presentation began with a discussion regarding underaged drinking, avoiding weed, how keeping drugs in one’s locker probably is not the best idea, among other things. The conversation then turned to a discussion about sexting, and particularly, the illegality of taking or sharing naked photos. The police told the students about the dangers of sexting, the ways in which the images are spread — that if you sext, your parents may have to look at that image because of the legal ramifications, and that you could be registered as a sex offender.

And this is pretty much true. Sexting is illegal not only if the teenager sends a naked photo to someone over 18 (and vice versa), but sexting is also illegal if two people under 18 mutually engage in it. These laws are confusing and contradictory. For example, age of consent laws vary state to state — like  in New Jersey, one can consent to sex if they are 16 — and there are some cases where it may be younger, varying from situation to situation depending on the age of both partners. This means that two consenting individuals may legally have sex, but may not consensually spread photos. If minors do send naked photos, they may have to appear in court or be registered as a sex offender. 

Perhaps what makes headlines more than the criminality of sexting itself is the aftermath of shared naked photos, both in and outside the U.S. Namely, for women most commonly, the devastation of the circulation of naked photos has driven multiple women to commit suicide. Jessica Logan, a teenager from Ohio, died by suicide after naked photos she shared with her boyfriend were circulated. Tovonna Holton-Teamer, from Florida, died by suicide when a video of her in the shower was circulated. Amanda Todd, from Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, received extensive media coverage after her suicide, as shortly before it, she posted a Youtube video describing the stalking, harassment and bullying which happened as a result of her flashing a boy on a webcam and the photos being spread. 

It seems like these tragic circumstances could be used as evidence for keeping teen sexting illegal. Perhaps if we can protect teens from ever sending these images, we will not have to deal with the negative repercussions later on. The percent of teenage women who send naked photos is not significantly higher than the percent of males. In light of this, it seems as though legality is less important than the shame which surrounds women’s bodies in a way that it does not surround the male body.

The perception of naked pictures from women is different from how naked photos from men are received. In a study of millennials, slightly older than today’s teens, 24 percent of men had sent a “d*** pic” without being asked. Women receive unsolicited photos more often than they receive ones they have asked for. Women facing shame is such a common part of female sexuality. The way in which our culture discusses and handles female sexuality is what creates an environment for a suicidal devastation to be possible. 

Although female sexuality is a large source of shame for society, one can compare the suicide of these women after naked photos were shared to the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a former Rutgers student. Clementi’s suicide has often been put in conversation with Amanda Todd’s, as Todd killed herself two years after Clementi. Both cases are often talked about under the conversational umbrella of “cyber-bullying,” which, as a New Yorker article points out almost seems “deliberately vague.” Clementi’s roommate took a video of him kissing another man without Clementi knowing. This is a conversation about invasion of privacy, and this could be a conversation about technology, but technology only provides us with another way to attack people on prejudices which have existed for years. Shame plays an enormous part here. Had Clementi been kissing a woman, this is still invasive and perhaps embarrassing, but often, men feel accomplished after being romantic with a woman. Clementi’s death, and the deaths of the women mentioned, should be less of a story about regulating technology, and more of a discussion on how our culture develops shame in minorities. 

Ashley Fowler is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in English. Her column, “Sex and the City,” runs on alternate Thursdays.


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Ashley Fowler

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