Beyond ‘Sexting’: Consent and Harm Minimization in Digital Sexual Cultures
This report, prepared by Yfoundations Youth Health Sector Support officer Jessie Hunt explores young people’s engagements with digital technologies in their friendships, sexual and romantic relationships.
Young peoples’ engagement in the practice of ‘sexting’, or sending sexually suggestive or explicit images via digital technology, has been a site of concern for parents, educators and police since the term was first coined in 2005. Over the past decade, government-sponsored campaigns, curriculum resources and lesson plans have sought to discourage young people from engaging in ‘sexting’. These resources take what we might call an ‘abstinence-only’ approach, aiming to discourage or ‘tackle’ young people’s sexting. Despite the wide distribution of these resources over the past five years, the practice of ‘sexting’ amongst young people has not been curbed—in fact, sexting has been absorbed into other facets of young people’s “digital sexual cultures”—including hook-up and dating applications, blogging and social networking sites. Resources that address ‘sexting’ no longer map successfully onto young people’s actual experiences of digital sexual cultures.
This paper works with academic understandings of the role and function of ‘sexting’ in the broader context of youth digital sexual cultures. It considers how youth workers, teachers and others working with young people can engage in sex positive digital sex education: positively with young people about their digital sexual cultures without shame or judgment, whilst emphasizing vital messages about respect, consent and boundaries. This paper also includes a set of adapted principles for applying harm reduction to digital sex education, as well as a sample workshop for engaging young people with these issues.