Whose ‘Sexting’ Are We Really Worried About?

According to a study on “Teens and Sexting” released Tuesday by the Pew Internet & American Life Center, the practice—which involves sending sexually suggestive material by text message—does not break down across gender lines. “Girls and boys are equally as likely to have sent a suggestive picture to another person,” the report reads; further, “There are no statistically significant differences in reports of receipt of these images by gender.”

Pretty clear, right? And thankfully, this detail has made it into several of the news stories spawned by the release of this report.

As for the pictures chosen to illustrate those stories, though… well, let’s just say that if you cynically assumed that photos accompanying stories about “teens” and “sex” would disproportionately feature female subjects even when the stories don’t support that connection, you’d be right. (See for example here, here, and here, and, for a two-week-old example that stems from the last study on this topic, here.) And while most of these photos are themselves fairly banal, at least a few carry—for different reasons—an “ick” factor. (For one counterexample, see here.)

The media is not alone in its preoccupation with the sexual behavior of adolescent females; that is, unfortunately, a pretty widespread cultural characteristic. (See, for example, the photo used by Pew to illustrate its report.) It would be nice, though, for media outlets to demonstrate a little self-awareness here, rather than simply perpetuating an unconscious association.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.