Worst case scenario:

The person you trusted with your heart, your dreams, your picture, has now shared it with their closest 500 friends. You feel hurt, betrayed and broken.

A US 2009 study through the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 20% of 13-19-year-olds had sent a sexually suggestive photo or video of themselves – opening them up to to the pain and hurt of being exploited.

Sexting has real consequences and potentially tragic outcomes for those who engage it.

Sexting is the “act of sending, receiving, or forwarding nude photographs or suggestive messages via cell phone.” 

As cell phones are becoming more ubiquitous, the incidences of sexting are also rising. What’s seen as private sharing often becomes public embarrassment and humiliation. Not only are the social implications very real but there are also possible legal consequences.

“According to Section 163.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada, sexting is illegal for those under the age of 18. Section 163.1 (2), “a person acts against the law when they print, publish, or possess child pornography for the purpose of publication.”

So, taking a nude picture, sending it to your partner, and your partner possessing the picture are all potential violations of the law and may put you at risk of criminal charges. Long-term consequences of being charged under Canada’s child pornography laws may include registration on the sex offenders’ registry and a criminal history which may impact future job opportunities, relationships, personal self-worth, and other prospects.

So how do I prevent it?

The best defence against the “request” for a sexted picture is to ensure you have a healthy relationship. When the relationship is healthy, there’s less chance for exploitation and a better chance you won’t feel “pressured” to do something you feel uncomfortable with. For everyone, their “recipe of love” is different. Yours may be a mixture of compassion, fun, and respect, while your friend is looking for trust, sizzle, and empathy. Ultimately though, all healthy relationships require three ingredients.

  • Communication – both parties must engage in open, assertive communication which includes listening to each other as much as, or even more than, we’re talking. Effective engaged communication is how we convey compassion, interest, empathy etc. , as well as express what our needs and wants are.
  • Power Balance – both parties are equal, treat each other as equal, and expect to be treated as equal. When we ensure that there is a power balance we decrease the opportunity for abuse, we show mutual respect and express our love.
  • Self-Esteem – before we can enter into a healthy relationship with someone else we need to ensure that we “love” ourselves and have positive self-esteem. Only once we are healthy and accepting of our flaws and of who we are can we expect another person to love us wholly the same.

Taking the steps to ensure that you build the basics into your relationship will save you time and heartbreak. It also provides you with skills to assert yourself and strength to protect yourself.

Things to Think About Before You Hit ‘Send’

  1. Decide what your personal boundaries are. Think before you are caught up with new feelings. What are your physical, emotional, mental and sexual standards?
  2. Model the type of behaviour you expect to receive. This shows what your expectations are as well as establishes a power balance.
  3. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable let them know in a respectful way. This will communicate what your standards are.
  4. Do not allow yourself to compromise your standards. Do not be afraid to say “no”. Your “no” will be respected if it is a healthy relationship.
  5. If you have been hurt do not be afraid to seek help. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or counsellor. If you cannot identify someone safe to speak with, please contact a crisis line.
  6. Relationships can grow and change – do not be afraid to move on if you need to.

Take the time to enjoy your relationships and leave sexting out of them. This will ensure that regret and pain from a private moment shared will not be an issue.

By Adela Czyzewska