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    Sexting, dignity, and what we can learn from one another

    Pediatricians often find themselves sitting across from teenagers trying to counsel them on wise and safe sexual practices. Unsure how much or what kind of information parents provide about sex, these conversations can be as awkward as they are important.  

    However with the ubiquity of social media and children’s exposure to mass media, it is unlikely teenaged or even preteenaged children are unfamiliar with the topic. In fact, they are dying of curiosity about it and beginning to establish their own sexual identities.   

    The Internet safety organization, “Enough is Enough,” recently blogged about a Cosmopolitan magazine tutorial on how to send the “perfect” sext.  They argue that “while Cosmopolitan continues to push the envelope on soft porn with ‘how to articles’ on having titillating illicit sex, they really crossed the line by promoting and normalizing the dangerous activity sexting.”  To an audience of teenaged and preteenaged girls, Cosmopolitan is normalizing and glorifying the practice of sexting.  

    Here are the facts:

    • Sexting and self pornification among youth are at crisis levels.

    • Nude and explicit photos of anyone aged under 18 years is considered to be child pornography and can lead to federal prosecution for those who distribute.

    • Many unsuspecting teenagers have found themselves on the sex offenders' registry. There are no “take backs” online and nothing is truly private. Reputations and lives have been ruined when sexting goes bad.

    • Revenge porn, sextortion, and cyberbullying are harmful consequences that can be devastating. 

    Cosmopolitan's articles encourages self pornification and paint a picture in the minds of young men and women that it is exciting and acceptable to degrade themselves, that their worth and value are tied up in their sexuality, and that it  is okay to lower expectations they hold for themselves and each other. That it is okay for them to allow others to strip away their dignity by sending sexts, says Donna Hughes, President and CEO of "Enough is Enough."

    How should pediatricians respond to Cosmopolitan, openly displayed at checkout counters, inviting young readers to learn about sexting and child pornography?  One thing is to buy our own copy of Cosmopolitan and see for ourselves. We also need to talk to kids about sexting, challenging as it might be.

    NEXT: Opinion of a social media consultant

    Howard King, MD, MPH
    Dr King, a board-certified pediatrician, is founder and director of the Children’s Emotional Health Link, and honorary member of the ...
    Martha Golub
    Martha Golub is a market research consultant who lives in the Boston area.

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