Amy Adele Hasinoff, an assistant professor of communication and author of Sexting Panic, has been researching sexting since 2008. She defines sexting as “using any form of digital communication (via phone, app, email, etc.) to send a sexual image or text message to another person.”
In her TEDx talk about sexting and consent, she points to findings by a group of researchers at Deacon University in Australia. They compiled results from an array of studies on the rates of sexting among young adults and found that over 50% engage in sexting. Amy explains that while media coverage on sexting is largely negative, there is a reason to be hopeful.
When she googled “sex tips”, Amy found that only 5% of the first page articles talked about consent. When she googled “sexting tips”, however, 33% of first page articles discussed the importance of consent when sending sexts. For example, 1/3 of the sites she examined warned of the consequences of sending an unwanted sext, implying that those who are looking to send an image or text message with sexual content need to make sure the other party is a willing participant. She highlights the fact that these kind of warnings were NOT present in the general sex advice articles and argues that this difference suggests we are headed in the right direction when talking about consent via sexting.
However, she does acknowledge some failures of the sexting tips articles. Amy notes in particular that, “they don’t talk about the serious trauma and harm of distributing someone’s private image without their permission.”
Nonetheless, she believes digital communication can teach us some important lessons about consent. Whereas general sex advice assumes that consent is easy to figure out without speaking openly about it, digital communications doesn’t allow for that kind of inference. It eliminates body language cues and thus, demands a conversation to determine consent. In other words, consent must be explicit. You DO have to talk about it.
And the importance of getting explicit consent must extend beyond the realm of sexting into conversations about sex in general. Amy explains, “rape is not a problem of miscommunication… We have to teach everyone including potential rapists that they have to make sure they have negotiated a meaningful yes with their partner.” Before sex. Before sexting. Consent must be made clear.
Watch her full TEDx talk here.