The Naked Truth
Nudes. Sexting. Child pornography.
Caught your attention yet? While those four words may not be commonly spoken in high schools around the country, they are the part untouched — the narrative left ignored and the reality left slighted.
Teenage sexting is a layer of a reality people prefer to avoid. It’s hard for parents to swallow the idea that their sons or daughters could be sending pictures of their privates, so pretending it doesn’t happen isn’t really that hard for some people. And yet, that doesn’t change the fact that it happens all the time.
Every picture has a focus, and then there’s a background — a unique blend of colors, shapes, shadows and textures that gives context and meaning to the focus. To understand this article’s focus, some background needs to be given. First, sexting is more prevalent than one would think. According to a 2012 study conducted by the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, one in four teens admitted to sexting. Given the rise of devices and apps that make it easier to sext, this trend is only expected to have gone up since then.
The other piece of context is just as essential. It’s the real name behind the euphemism of the word ‘sexting’: child pornography. While states may vary on their laws pertaining to child pornography, Illinois’s Juvenile Court Act of 1987, later amended in 2011, provides for more lenient sanctions for minors caught transmitting indecent visual depictions of themselves or other minors.
“With the advent of cell phones, computers and the ability to transmit pictures, the law was amended to essentially say that juveniles should not be judged under the same level as adults,” School Resource Officer Dusan Racic commented.
So, in the event that a student gets caught having sent or been in possession of child pornography, what happens? Under the amended version of the 1987 bill, minors found in violation of the law may be ordered to obtain counseling or compelled to perform community service. At the same time, it’s worth noting that no major sexting scandal has broken out at LHS; students who’ve engaged in this activity have not spoken out publicly…not until now.
Using pseudonyms to respect the privacy of our sources, our hope is to relay the experiences of students at LHS, who’ve been involved in sexting in some capacity. By telling their stories, we recognize that it’s not completely representative of all the voices or all the students at LHS, but it’s a good first step towards coming to terms with the naked truth.
What started out as more or less of a joke had culminiated into a picture of a dick on Zara’s phone. He had said that he was in a mood — he had told her how horny he was feeling. So, kiddingly, she told him to prove it. And then when the picture came, she screenshotted it.
“I just put my phone down and I was just staring at my blank screen, thinking ‘What just happened? I don’t know what to do with this.’”
Zara hadn’t seen it coming. Automatically, she sent the picture to two of her closest friends because she didn’t know how to react.
She had known the person for a while and he did not strike her as the type of person confident enough to send a nude.
“I just kind of thought it was funny, knowing the person that he was. I never thought he’d actually do it, and I was like ‘Oh my god, this is something he would never do,’ so I was kind of in shock.”
That picture did its damage, though. The two no longer spoke to each other after the incident. Zara attributes this to the awkwardness of the situation.
“He never apologized. He never talked to me again. I think he was really uncomfortable with the whole thing.”
When asked why she didn’t send a nude back, Zara made it clear that she didn’t feel comfortable sending a picture. In her view, even if she really trusted a person, there would always be a risk of someone else seeing it. She views the idea of sending nudes as a personal choice, but as for her, she doesn’t send them.
“I just don’t want my picture out there, I guess. And umm…I don’t know how to take one.”
“Wanna show me your ass?” The words would have hit her harder had it been in person, but they were typed on an electronic screen. Her immediate response was to block him on Snapchat. She thought to herself, ”No, I’m not having any of this.” The conversation had evolved from talking about homework problems to the immediate shift for a demand of a picture of her butt. She began to notice that “the camera just started moving down.”
Hazel couldn’t understand why he would think to ask her for a picture of her butt in the first place, and a flood of questions about the impression she had been giving off began to consume her mind.
“‘Why?’ What are they expecting? Most people send them thinking they’re gonna get something in return and I was wondering if I did something to give off that impression, that I would send pictures back? Or do you think of me in a way that you just expect nudes from me?”
For the next few days, Hazel realized that the friendship that had developed between her and the boy had been irreversibly damaged.
“It was really awkward, especially because I had classes with him, and seeing him in person the next day was really uncomfortable because it was like ‘I know what’ve you done.’ I thought of him a lot less,” she said. I know a lot, a lot of people send pictures and do that type of stuff, but it was still kind of like ‘Wow, I did not really see that coming and now I don’t think of you as highly as I did before.’”
Prior to starting, it should be noted that Asher’s interview was conducted over email at his request. His experience with sexting slightly varies from the other narratives. Throughout the course of last year, Asher found himself receiving pictures of cleavage from a girl.
“They were completely unannounced, and in all honesty, kind of annoying because I knew that meant that she was trying to approach me, but the feeling was not mutual,” he explained.
However, unlike Zara’s and Hazel’s cases, where sending nudes damaged the relationship, this exchange did not estrange the two individuals.
“Her and I were good friends (and still are), so I didn’t tell anyone about her risqué pictures.”
Although Asher describes his own encounter with nudes being uncomfortable and annoying, he does believe that it is “an acceptable way to indulge in the raging, rampant hormones inside all of us teens” only when there is a “mutual desire” from “both parties.”
While sending nudes can be acceptable when there is a “mutual desire,” Asher is aware of the certain risks attached to sending nudes, such as “having the pictures be spread,” “being caught by parents/authority” and “being blackmailed with the pictures.” This risk only escalates while in a relationship. So, Asher believes in the importance of trust in a relationship, especially while engaging in sexting.
“You should have that deep trust in your [significant other] that whatever sexual act you guys do—whether it be sending nudes or something as far as having sex—won’t be carelessly shared with the world.”
As Charlize was finishing up her homework, her phone buzzed with a message from a boy she knew. When she opened the text, she immediately “freaked out and clicked away.” The questions to her homework were long forgotten. There was only one question Charlize had on her mind: why had she just received an unsolicited picture of a dick?
In a state of confusion, Charlize began to text her friends for advice. Everybody responded telling her to “block him, block him.” Charlize ignored her friends’ advice and admitted that she still keeps in touch with him.
“I still talk to him. It’s not weird anymore, but I felt shocked and I was like, ‘Do I send one back?’ But I don’t do that. I’ve never sent one,” she said.
Although Charlize has never sent a full nude, Charlize confessed that she will occasionally send pictures of her cleavage.
“I’ll do ‘here’s my cleavage’ and that’s that, but that’s all I do; I don’t do anything else.”
Charlize revealed that her main hesitation for not sending a full picture of her body is due to her own insecurities.
“I’m so insecure. I don’t like my body. I know people give me compliments like ‘Oh, you have a nice body.’ But I don’t see it that way. I’m not going to show you any skin,” she said. “That’s why I’ve never worn shorts to school. I don’t like showing my legs, really. I’m always in a hoodie or leggings or something baggy, or like skinny jeans–that’s that. I’m just pretty insecure.”
Another main factor that hindered Charlize from sending pictures is the fear of what may happen to her future.
“I’m trying to go to college. If people find that out, you can get in serious trouble. I’m not trying to jeopardize that or my future,” Charlize said. “That can totally just ruin things for you because people screenshot nudes. There goes your life. Everyone has seen your body. I’m going to keep everything to myself.”
Charlize initially divulged that she didn’t fully understand why people sent nudes, but she eventually boiled it down to the idea of confidence. She thought they might want one to think, “I’m so confident in my body, I want you to see what you’ll be getting if you hook up with me.”
It can be derived from Charlize’s case that a root cause of choosing not to send nudes is insecurity. Contrastly, this is one of the sole reasons why Violet chooses to send hers. For her, the compliments she receives about her body boost her self-confidence.
“As somebody who has been very insecure about their body all my life, it is not the worst thing to hear something nice about it.”
Since a young age, Violet has received a fair share of “unsolicited and weird” nude pictures. The first time she received a picture, the emotion that immediately gripped her was one of terror.
“I was terrified my parents would know that I received that. They’d be like ‘Violet what the f*** is on your phone?’ ‘Like, I don’t know. I didn’t ask for it.’”
Even though the first time Violet received a graphic image was at a young age, in middle school, she reported her innocence wasn’t loss.
“I mean it was surprising, but it didn’t really destroy my innocence,” she said. “By the time that happened, I knew what it was.”
Violet chose to first start sending nudes to people out of the country because if they did get disseminated, it wouldn’t affect her.
“It started with only people outside the country, and then it moved to people outside the state. Because then if they screenshotted it, they could show people, but I wouldn’t care if they saw it. It wouldn’t spread around,” Violet said. “Like, if a bunch of guys in Brisbane want to randomly crowd around my nudes, then okay. It would be weird if it was someone in Libertyville High School.”
For Violet, choosing to send nudes is a personal choice; the reasons may vary each time.
“Sometimes I send them for fun. Sometimes it’s because I’m bored. Sometimes the compliments are nice,” she said.
There’s this idea of omission — that some conversations are better left unsaid. And it’s this thinking that’s stigmatized the ability to speak out on sensitive issues. Together, these collective narratives are the beginning of a dialogue worth having. Here are the students’ last words:
“Honestly, if you want to, do it. Don’t be stupid; don’t let it get out, and if people are gonna find out, be ready. Take responsibility for it and if something does happen, be prepared.” – Zara
I think it’s your personal choice, but I guess you have to feel pretty comfortable in your body. It’s a very personal thing to share with someone else.” -Hazel
“If you do get sent a picture, don’t screenshot it. Don’t share it with your friends. Don’t even save it onto your phone, c’mon. That’s a huge breach of privacy and trust and will most likely have significant consequences down the road.” – Asher
“Considering I received two this weekend, honestly, I wasn’t as surprised. At the same time, I wasn’t as phased… I opened a snapchat from him and I saw he was naked. I was like ‘woah.’ This is not what I wanted to see at a family dinner…I was talking to my friend and she got sent one too, ‘like, what is wrong with these boys?’” – Charlize
“I never think I am going to get in trouble for it. I don’t think of the legality of it…I guess if I thought about it, it might be a bad idea, but since I am the one taking it, I feel that it is generally within my power. -Violet