*Trigger Warning: This blog contains references to graphic sexual content and sexual abuse.
“At 13, I remember a group of boys, a year younger than me I think, openly watching hardcore anal porn on the bus to school. There was a huge porn culture at the school. I was constantly pressured to send naked pictures, and when I eventually did, I was badly bullied. I thought sending naked pictures must be something everyone did. I was so badly bullied that I ended up with PTSD and left the school after a few months.” – Elizabeth*
The phenomenon of “sexting” is reaching crisis levels for adolescents everywhere.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, sexting is when someone takes a naked or semi-naked (explicit) picture or video of themselves, usually using their phone, and sends it to someone else—and it’s extremely common.
According to a 2020 Thorn study, one in seven kids aged 9 to 12 years old had shared their own nudes, up from 1 in 20 in 2019, and 1 in 5 believed that it’s normal for kids their age to share nudes. Those numbers are staggering.
This means that, in the U.S. alone, millions of children and young teens have naked photos of themselves floating around the internet. Children are also being subjected to these sexualized images simply by owning a phone.
These numbers have undoubtedly increased in the past 2 years due to the pandemic and increased time on smartphones and other devices.
While sexting content is often self-generated, if the creators are under the age of 18, it is legally defined as child sexual abuse material, or “child porn” in the United States.
Unfortunately, many young girls and boys are coerced and pressured into sending nude photos and videos with the promise of those images staying private. Yet, this content can be easily shared among friends and even posted online.
What began as a “simple sext,” turned into years of shame, guilt, and mockery, eventually leading to two separate suicide attempts, a serious drug addiction, and homelessness.
According to Thorn, in 2020, 50% of kids who shared nude photos sent them to someone they had never met in real life.
For 14-year-old Serena, the decision to send a nude video after pressure from her then-boyfriend truly altered the entire course of her life. The boy asked for several naked videos, which he then shared with other boys and someone posted them on Pornhub. One naked video of her at age 14 had 400,000 views.
Serena remembered, “People were texting me, [threatening that] if I didn’t send them a video, they were going to send them to my mom.”
This is called sextortion: the act of threatening to release a sexual image in order to make another person do something. According to Thorn, perpetrators of sextortion are often current, former, or would-be romantic sexual partners attempting to harass, embarrass, and control their victims.
However, when kids and teens are the victims of sextortion, the lines of relationships are blurred, often involving the desire to be accepted and social pressure.
Like Serena, 2 in 3 victims are girls threatened before the age of 16, and 60% of sextortion victims know their perpetrator.
While the boy in Serena’s story was suspended, Serena’s own life would never be the same. What began as a “simple sext,” turned into years of shame, guilt, and mockery, eventually leading to two separate suicide attempts, a serious drug addiction, and homelessness.
In many young minds, all that matters is being loved and accepted by your friends. Kids certainly aren’t thinking about the consequences of sending nudes in the moment, especially when they believe they are sending them to a “safe” or trusted person.
Sharing nude photos and videos is now easier than ever and many teens have been fooled into thinking there is a “safe” way to sext, specifically through the app, Snapchat. Currently, over 280 million people use Snapchat daily, with 38 percent of users located in the U.S., and in 2020, more than 4 billion photos were sent every day.
It originally lured millions of users through the guise of “self-destructing photos” that only last 1 to 10 seconds. Many pop culture media outlets even promote the use of the app for sexting, providing ‘how-to’ articles such as “Here’s How To Sext On Snapchat Like A Pro.”
As a result, there are pages and pages of videos on Pornhub dedicated to screen recordings and screenshots of pornographic images shared via Snapchat and texts.
The concerning statistic? 82 percent of teens use the app at least once a month, and 36 percent say it is their favorite social media app.
So what spurs this sexting culture among teens? The short answer: easy access to porn and early exposure to porn as a child.
I am still haunted at the thought of those images being shared with anyone else.
Porn culture indoctrinates young kids into thinking sending nudes and sexting is normal behavior. It also teaches that the viewer or perpetrator deserves instant gratification.
Exposed to porn at age 11, 22-year-old Derek* began snapchatting a friend’s 13-year-old sister.
“One late night, I started getting silly and pushing boundaries, and the next thing I knew we were sending nudes to each other on Snapchat. I thought surely I wouldn’t get caught with the data disappearing. It got worse as we started sexting and video calling late at night, getting raunchier each time.”
Derek eventually met up with the young girl and sexually abused her. He was later caught by the parents and went to prison.
What may seem harmless in one instance can pave the way to sexual abuse.
Fourteen-year-old Margaret* started out sending nudes through Snapchat, to be accepted by a boy, but it turned into something much worse.
“I remember being a freshman in high school and a group of senior boys asking me what my bra size was. I would frequently get asked for nudes but I ignored them, until a popular boy I had a crush on started messaging me flirtatiously. It quickly escalated to him sending unsolicited nude photos and pressuring me to send them back. I knew it was wrong, but I so badly wanted to be desired and accepted by this boy, so I did it anyway.
Unfortunately, I had low self-worth and believed that my value came from what boys liked about my body, largely due to porn use at a young age after being exposed at 11. This all turned into him groping me at school on several occasions and eventually forced oral sex. I felt trapped but I was too ashamed to tell anyone what was happening.
I am still haunted at the thought of those images being shared with anyone else.”
According to a 2015 survey, 1 in 3 victims of sextortion did not tell anyone due to shame, embarrassment, and self-blame.
Sexting, like porn use, is not harmless. One photo can alter the course of a child’s life. As kids are gaining access to the internet and smartphones at younger and younger ages, sexting is becoming a widespread epidemic with devastating consequences we have only just begun to see.
But we can fight back against the normalization of sexting among kids and young teens. With your help, we can protect children from underage exposure to porn and prevent them from being robbed of their innocence by a pornified culture.
Here are three ways you can help:
1. Join 60k+ others by signing the petition demanding age verification, with ID, on every single porn site. Then share it.
2. Watch Raised on Porn, free on YouTube, then like, comment, and share it with 5 friends.
3. Give here. Your gift will provide critical resources to help fuel the fight against commercial sexual exploitation and help strengthen protection for children.
*Names have been changed for anonymity