The bigger issue is that there’s a tendency to look at what people are doing online, especially teens, especially teen girls, as inherently dangerous and corrupting; that sexting is something risky done to them rather than something at times pleasurable they participate in with a degree of agency; as something caused by technology, part of the longer trend of ignoring or even erasing teen and women’s sexual agency.

Society is uncomfortable with such sexual agency, and the “problem” is solved when it is displaced onto an app or a device: just put the phone away and we can pretend something that long predates the phone can be “fixed” away.

As such, “social media” or “technology” is treated as like a morally disinhibiting toxin (more on that). I think this stems from what I call “digital dualism”, the fallacy that the web is some separate, other, virtual, world; it gives us an easy culprit and solution for difficult social problems, but it’s a misunderstanding of the deeply enmeshed nature of digital technologies in our everyday lives. 

I’ve been guilty of scapegoating technology in this way, taking a bit of a determinist view of what using social media does to users’ perception of risk, their appetite for it, the potential pleasures they can develop through it that might not have otherwise seemed possible or desirable. Some of these are about consuming “risk” on demand, as if it were a commodity in isolation, a means to escape less controllable forms of risk. This risk on demand is marketed in a way that is designed to be compulsive, as with machine gambling.

Others are the pleasures of agency, of having a demonstrable and measurable effect in the world — the pleasures of virality. But some of these are the ordinary pleasures of desire that would exist without media to chart them.

But because these ordinary “natural” desires are charted in media that don’t belong to the ones expressing desires, because they are made manifest in the particular form that social-media platforms require, they become reified and exploitable by third parties. That’s the basic business model of social-media companies: induce users to surrender control of the messages they communicate in order to be able to broadcast them to a measurable audience. The idea that desires must be broadcast to be “real” sustains that business model, and that seems an ideology worth combatting.

on sexting


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