“We’re uncomfortable with the evidence that teen girls have sexual agency.” Special guest Amy Hasinoff tells Mike and Sarah how a moral panic became a legal nightmare. Digressions include Cosmo advice columns, Grindr etiquette and the revolutionary hugging of the "Avengers" movies. Due to the ongoing hex placed on this podcast, the sound quality is worse than usual.Support the show
Sarah: Yeah, I did a diagram of Love Actually recently and over half of the relationships in that movie are between a man and a woman he's never spoken to.
Mike: Welcome to You're Wrong About, the podcast where we reveal that the lies we believe the most are the stories we tell ourselves every day. I fucked that up. That was supposed to be a Stephen Jay Gould quote. Something about how we get the stories the wrongest that we tell ourselves the most.
Sarah: Yeah. I think that's true. As I got to my friend's house where I'm now recording this episode, she was like, what are you talking about today? And I was like, sexting. And she was like, Ooh, sexting is having a moment, isn't it? And I was like, I feel like sexting has been having a long moment for 12 years, and this is definitely a consistent narrative, although maybe there's an archetypal evolution that I'm very excited about the subject matter.
Mike: I am Michael Hobbes. I'm a reporter for the Huffington Post.
Sarah: I am Sarah Marshall. I am working on a book about the Satanic Panic.
Mike: And today we have a special guest, Amy Hasinoff.
Sarah: Hello, Amy.
Amy: Hi, thanks for having me.
Mike: Amy is a researcher at the University of Colorado Denver, and the author of Sexting Panic. And she got in touch with us about a week ago, two weeks ago, after she listened to our episode for Halloween last year, about the rainbow party panic. And she pointed out that we are in the midst of a teenage sex moral panic about sexting, that has been going on for as long as any of us have been alive. At least of sexting age. As long as any of us have been of legal sexting age, this has been happening.
Sarah: I love the long panics.
Amy: Well, thanks for having me. I'm really sad that I've almost listened to your entire back catalog. It's going to be over, and I'll have to wait like a normal person for each new episode.
Sarah: I feel like I was just old enough when I started having texting capabilities that I managed to miss this one. Cause I first was able to text my freshman year of college. So I feel like growing up right before the camera phone was a super thing, left me in the dark about what has been going on.
Mike: So you've never sent a sext, Sarah?
Sarah: I can neither confirm nor deny that. Well, let's say this, I've never been a teen. I've never been a sexting minor. How about you, Michael? Tell me about your sext.
Mike: I am a gay man in his thirties. I think we could all be clear, statistically speaking, I am extremely likely to have sent and received one or two sexts in my dating life. I am a great defender of sexting. I think sexting is great. It's a way of flirting early in the relationship. It's a way of keeping in touch with your partner when you're on a business trip or whatever. It's sexy and fun and I've always thought that it was fun.
Me and Amy were talking the other day about how we are both defenders of Anthony Weiner, at least in the early stage one Anthony Weiner, back when all the sexting that he was doing was consensual.
Sarah: Stage one, Weiner.
Mike: Yes. My formative thing with this is I remembered this podcast that I listened to, a very popular politics podcast, was talking about Anthony Weiner, way before the sexting of the 15 year old came out. And they were saying, oh, well, he's obviously a sociopath, he obviously needs help. He's obviously really troubled and it's like, is he? I see like lots of people are sending consensual sex to their partners or people they're online dating. And it seems like a relatively normal thing to do at this point.
Sarah: I think of that being sold to the public as something that's gross or predatory or embarrassing, as opposed to a way that people need to communicate. And now this is the best way to do it.
Mike: Right. Amy, is that what you tell the teens when you go to schools to talk to them about sexting?
Amy: Not exactly, but that's definitely kind of one of the implicit messages. Because there's technically a legal risk in trying to advocate safer sexting. I sort of heard from lawyers who are sort of giving me advice, if you advocate for safer sexting, that's basically telling teenagers, here's how to do heroin more safely. So you're sort of like advocating that they commit a felony in a way that's safer. So I don't go there with people under 18. But when I am talking to high school students, I'll usually just have them spend a while thinking about the risks and the benefits of sexting. And what's kind of radical about that, even though it sounds very simple, is that they've never really been asked to think or talk about the benefits, it's only just been the risks because they're usually just getting that sort of just don't do it. Just don't sext.
Sarah: Just say no.
Mike: Yeah, it always works.
Sarah: This is your brain on sexting basically.
Amy: Now that message is just so common. It's either that they were just told nothing at all, and more commonly, they were told, well, just don't do it, it's illegal. Which of course it is illegal yet a third of them, 16 and 17 year old’s, are going to do it anyway. No matter what we tell them, it's still illegal, but some of them are becoming sexually active. And then sexting is just how people communicate with their partners or would be partners. But among young adults, the numbers are even higher. Some surveys will be over 50%, over 70%. It depends how you ask the question and who you're asking, but this is not a behavior that is just done by a couple of weird people. Like it's pretty common at this point, right?
Mike: This is not deviant behavior. This is normal behavior and not sexting is statistically speaking, the deviant choice.
Amy: Well I don’t know about deviant. It's still risky.
Mike: I just want to be clear on record as saying people who don't sext are deviant. I just want that to be crystal clear.
Amy: I don't know if that’s fair, but I see what you're saying.
Mike: My understanding of the definition of sexting is you basically stand in front of a mirror naked. You take a photo of yourself in the mirror and then you text it to someone you're chatting to online or your partner or a random person on the internet. Right? Whether it's consensual or not, I guess that the term still applies. So is it sexting if you're only shirtless, but you're in your underwear? What are the technicalities of the definition?
Sarah: Are we applying this only to photos or if I'm sending someone something describing my feelings and desires, does that fall under the umbrella?
Mike: My boobs are really big right now.
Sarah: Your understanding of straight sex is very strange.
Mike: I have no idea of what straight people sext to each other.
Sarah: Yes, that’s what they say.
Mike: My boobs are the biggest they've ever been. That seems like a cute thing to say.
Sarah: Yes. My boobs are so big for you right now. Exactly.
Amy: Yeah, so technically sexting could be either messages or pictures, but it's a word that's been recently invented, so you can look in the dictionary for our definition, but it's used in both ways to mean images or text messages. It probably should be of a sexual nature for it to be sexting. I think shirtless in your underwear, that's probably sexting. I mean, I would think of it as like, would this photo be embarrassing if your parents saw it?
Mike: It's like PG13 sexting.
Amy: Yeah. Oh, for sure. Yeah. And then it also should be personal. So it shouldn't be something that was produced as a commercial product. It doesn't really seem like sexting if you're just downloading porn off the internet and sending it to your friend or your partner.
Mike: Right. Does it have to be self-taken? Like if some creep is taking photos of someone else in a locker room. Those aren't sexts, right? That's just-
Amy: No, I wouldn't call it sexting. So it's a photo of yourself. Always. Yeah. I would say it's photos of yourself. But at the same time, what if you are with your partner and they are taking photos of you, consensually, as part of some kind of sexual situation, that may be still sexting because then your partner has photos of you that they took of you.
Mike: What are some examples of sexting behavior?
Mike: Yeah. I'm pretending to be dumb about this, but I'm not. I know what sexting is, but for our listeners, what are the reasons why people send sex to each other?
Amy: So there are many reasons someone might sext. Basically in a broader sense, it's just like any other sex act. They'll do it because they find it pleasurable. They do it because they like it. They do it because I think it's fun, because they think it's flirty. So sometimes people in a long distance relationship might send each other sexy photos, just like you might have phone sex. Sometimes people will send photos when they're starting a new relationship, though that's more risky.
Mike: I have only sent risky sexts. Which means my sex and practices have not been great.
Amy: Yeah, no, that's fair. But also as a male human, the repercussions are going to be different.
Mike: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely true.
Amy: And it's someone who's like already out, there's not a huge risk that you're going to be outed by sexting with other men. Right. Which is one of the biggest risks for men who are not out. This outs them. For women, the risk is more, you are a human female with sexual agency. That must be bad.
Mike: It’s a complete ruin of your life.
Amy: It definitely can be. That's the problem with revenge porn, right?
Mike: For me, if my sext leaked, they’ll be like, well, Mike looked good in his twenties.
Amy: I mean, basically.
Mike: Yeah. I'm exaggerating, but not that much. Right? Like the consequences are going to be completely different.
Mike: So that's the definition. So where does the panic originate? When did we hear about it for the first time?
Amy: Yeah, so I think basically I would date it to the release of this survey that was run by CosmoGirl in 2008 called Sex and Tech that found that a non-trivial amount of teenagers were sexting, and the word had been used in sort of isolated instances through the 2000. Like Tiger Woods, if you remember that scandal, was sexting.
Mike: Oh, I didn't know that.
Amy: And that was really a conversation about celebrities and their infidelity. The panic about teenagers really started in 2008 with the release of that survey, finding that, oh, all these teen girls are sexting. And this is something we need to be worried about and concerned about.
Sarah: But CosmoGirl was the one that conducted this study, though?
Amy: The sex and tech survey was CosmoGirl and the national campaign to prevent teen and unplanned pregnancy.
Sarah: It's an interesting bedfellow. I had no idea that any of the Cosmo family were doing their own studies aside from having people write in with seemingly made up stuff. Speaking of moral panics, I grew up reading adult cosmos and just like the things I learned that you're supposed to do to straight men's penises were just, they had to come up with a new thing every week and it just got so Baroque.
Amy: I know the ice cubes, nobody wants that.
Sarah: It was sex tips written by like an alien who had learned about sex by watching a blank sheet of Mickey Rourke movies.
Amy: I mean, I have to assume that they don’t expect you to use the tips, it's more just like a way to sort of read erotic fiction.
Mike: It's like watching recipe, videos on YouTube. You're not going to make those.
Sarah: It's like watching all the tasty videos. I'm not really going to put a bunch of crescent rolls inside of a deep dish pizza pan and fill it with mozzarella. But it's interesting to think about it.
Mike: But then I feel like the way these moral panics, there's always like a little Genesis seed, but then the ramp up is always sort of where the panic really happens. Right? Like when the idea gets popularized and stripped of all of its nuance and methodological complexity, so where was that? Was Dr. Phil involved? What was the ramp to becoming a moral panic for sexting?
Amy: I would put really good odds on Dr. Phil being involved, based on nothing. It seems like the kind of thing he'd get his fingers into.
Amy: Dr. Phil was involved.
Mike: When your cynical assumptions get confirmed, it's always so depressing.
Amy: But I don't know that he's the major player. I think this survey was really what launched it into sort of national prominence. And also it started getting discussed in the UK and Australia. There were a number of key incidents that sort of amplified the panic about it.
One of them was the suicide of a girl who was basically sexting with someone. And then this partner, a boy from her class, basically distributed the photos and she was, of course, blamed and slut-shamed for it and sort of told by her school that she had done something wrong and there were basically no consequences for the boy. And so she sort of suffered from bullying at school and slut-shaming, and ostracized by her peers, and ended up ending her own life by suicide. And then of course, this became a big media story very briefly. And so this was sort of associating with all of the risks, right about sexting is like, basically the consequences for sexting are you will die.
Mike: Because the moral impetus is always on women in these things to do something differently.
Amy: Oh, absolutely.
Mike: It's never like if you're a boy, delete them immediately after you receive them or never ever show them to anyone else. The actual moral problem in that whole scenario is the boy that knew the kind of damage that would have to a high school girl and decided to do it anyway.
Sarah: Or the school full of grownups who can be like, maybe we shouldn't shame this teenage girl and act judgmental about the fact that she possesses a sexuality.
Amy: Oh, absolutely. And that's what the whole panic about sexting is that we're constantly very uncomfortable with the evidence that sexting provides, that teen girls have sexual agency. And so they're making these choices to sexualize themselves, which we're totally okay with if it's like an advertisement for jeans. But if girls create sexual images of themselves, that means that we need to panic and that they're total sluts and that we have to teach them a lesson and make this illegal to make sure that they don't do it again. We have so many sexualized images of women and girls and everyone's like, yeah, that's fine. That’s for commercial purposes, that's for selling cars. We're cool with that because that's not female sexual agency, that's just objectification, which is not a problem at all.
Sarah: And also if girls are aware of their sexuality or their own appearances, then they might develop some sense of their own power, which seems like it's too dangerous to bear.
Mike: Yeah. Yes. But Amy, what are the other events on this path that contributed to it?
Amy: The other events that were part of the sort of early sexting panic was this court case that made it to a third circuit court in 2010. And what had happened was a couple of girls were at a sleepover party and had taken some photos of themselves in various states of not being totally dressed. And one involves someone who had just got out of the shower and had like a towel, maybe I think only around the bottom half. So she was like topless in this towel. And then the other one was a girl in her bra, I think. Basically like the photos got passed around. A bunch of parents got a letter from the district attorney saying, quote, your child has been identified in a police investigation involving the possession and or dissemination of child pornography.
Sarah: Oh my God.
Amy: So most parents agreed to basically like a plea deal that involved an education program and six months of Brook probation and random drug testing.
Sarah: Was prosecution on the table, or like some kind of sentence?
Amy: I think he basically threatened to prosecute, but I don't think he actually pressed charges. He just sent this letter, right? And so he used the letter as leverage to say, okay, if you agree to complete this education program and serve six months of probation, including random drug testing, then I will not press charges. So it was just kind of one of those-
Mike: Deferred prosecution agreements.
Amy: Yeah, exactly. So most of them, the students and their parents agreed to this deal, but three students, and of course their parents really got the ACLU involved and they were trying to resist having to do this. The ACLU was successful in getting a restraining order against this district attorney, preventing him from filing child pornography charges. Their main argument was that the photos didn't actually meet the definition of child pornography. So child pornography has to depict a sex act occurring or a lascivious focus on the genitals. And none of the photos actually had either of those things. So they did have a girl who was topless, but that doesn't count as a “lascivious focus on genitals”.
Mike: Yes. This is one of those, let me Google that for you cases.
Amy: I know. And prosecutors do this all the time because they just see a sexual image of a child and they'll say to the parents and the team, this is child pornography. And if they don't have a good lawyer, they don't know. And so they’re just freaked out and they just agree to whatever deal is being offered, because who wants a child pornography charge? Some teams have been ending up on sex offender registries for sexting because they've created or disseminated child pornography.
Mike: The idea of conflating child pornography with two teenagers flirting with each other through photos they take in the bathroom mirror seems wildly inappropriate, right? They're two completely different things with different purposes being done by different people. I mean, they're just not the same thing.
Sarah: Yeah. And this sort of logical Mobius strip of, we have to punish you really harshly for doing this terrible thing, which is creating and distributing child pornography, of yourself. And that child pornography is, in my understanding of it and my moral universe, primarily a porridge, because it is so abusive to its subjects. And so it feels like there's a contradiction just baked into that.
Amy: Yeah. And some of the legal scholars who are more on the conservative end of the spectrum will say, we have to make sexting illegal because if we don't, we will create a source of legal sexual images of children that will fuel the child pornography and abuse market. So the presumption is that if adults can see images of children that are sexual that are even legally and consensually produced, that will incite them to abuse. And I think there's not a lot of clear evidence that's how child abuse works, that you do it because you've seen sexual images of children rather than there is a lot of evidence that it's about abusing a power dynamic. And really child pornography is a fairly recent invention. I mean, no pornography existed before film existed, but child sexual abuse is not a new phenomenon. It's not like we didn't have any child sexual abuse or sexual violence or rape before pornography existed in any form.
This is not a new problem. This assumption that, well, we can't have these images out there is I think well-intentioned as these kinds of laws and policies often are, but at the same time, when a third of 16 and 17 year old’s are sexting regardless, what does it actually do to make it illegal? Right? What it does is it makes it more victim blaming when a privacy violation happens, because then if a privacy violation happens, you can just say to both the boy and the girl, oh, you both did something wrong. You both did something illegal. When what happened was, the girl sends a photo to the boy, they break up, and then he sends it out to all of his friends, because he's a jerk. So the school authorities and the law can say, oh, you both did something wrong.
Mike: Right. It's a sledgehammer. You're just going in and saying, well, everybody involved in this act must have done something wrong without looking at where the actual moral implications are.
Sarah: Well, and it's also in the long tradition of, holding women and in this case, holding teenage girls responsible for any of the damage or violence that their physical being might attract to them, you need to control yourself to such degree that, no one has any reason to hurt you or assault you or humiliate you. If you keep things under control, then no one will have to hurt you.
Mike: Have there been a lot of these cases? I mean, these cases tend to make it in the media, but is there an iceberg of just routine prosecutions of teenagers for this sort of stuff underneath it?
Amy: That’s a great question and I wish I had better data on it. There was a study that came out in 2009 or 2010. That showed that a significant proportion, something around 10% of child pornography prosecutions, for a certain period of time, were of teens who are consensually sexting with each other. So I don't know what has been happening in the ten years since then.
My anecdotal impression is that what happens is child pornography charges, just like this case in Pennsylvania, are sort of used as a specter for prosecutors to get teenagers to do what they want. The other thing that's changed since 2009 is that most states have passed really ineffective and unfair misdemeanor laws to address sexting. So, the majority of states have these now. People sort of realized quickly that child pornography charges are a bit excessive for sexting and it's easy to sort of have sympathy, especially for teenage boys who are sort of caught committing privacy violations. And then the local prosecutor wants to charge them for child pornography, because there is no other charge. And people are like, well, he did something bad, but it shouldn't be child pornography cause that's a felony and it's terrible.
Mike: So you want to create an intermediate thing.
Amy: Yes. So a lot of states in the time between 2008 and now have passed these new misdemeanor laws about sexting, which in theory, are better. Because child pornography obviously is a ridiculous charge for a minor creating an image of themselves. But the problem with the misdemeanor laws is that they still don't distinguish between consensual sexting and privacy violations. So it's still just illegal for everyone. So you have the same slut-shaming logic of whenever anyone finds out about sexting it's usually because there's been a privacy violation, right. Most of the time people are sexting and no one ever finds out about it because they just keep it on their phone, they delete, and no one ever sees it.
Sarah: And it's like how you never hear about the good acid trips, right. You only ever hear about the guy in the news who jumped off a building because he thought he could fly. If sexting goes well then it's never anyone else's business.
Amy: Yes, exactly. So now we have a lot of these states having misdemeanor laws, which I think prosecutors are using now instead because I don't think they're going to have a lot of community support for these felony laws, unless someone's doing something extremely egregious.
Mike: I mean, that's something but it's not good.
Amy: Yeah, it's an improvement except what worried me about it at the time and still does to this day, is that because the misdemeanor charge can be pretty minor, then the prosecutor might be feeling empowered to apply it to everyone. Because if you have a case where a girl sends a photo to a boy and he later distributes it, it's literally absurd to apply a felony child pornography to the girl, for sure, but also to the boy, right? Because the level of harm is probably not so high that it should be a felony. At the same time, when you have a misdemeanor charge, if it's pretty minor, it's easier for the prosecutor to say, well, everyone was doing something wrong.
Sarah: Misdemeanors are like impulse buy stuff. It's like, why not? I kind of need gum.
Amy: Well, all these teams were doing something they shouldn't have been doing because it's child pornography. But now we have this misdemeanor charge and I don't have solid data evidence that this is happening more, but my strong suspicion is when you have a lesser charge, you're more likely to apply it. So it might've been better to just keep it as child pornography and then prosecutors would have been scared off from actually using it because it's so harsh.
Mike: Okay. How do you feel about laws criminalizing the revenge porn aspect of this? Because morally speaking, it is appalling to take a naked image of someone else, whether or not they're a teenager, and distribute it. How do you feel about criminalizing that?
Amy: I think it's probably better that the laws exist than not, but the problem with revenge porn laws is the same problem that we have with all the laws that apply to sexual abuse. Is that like people don't usually report, then prosecutions tend to unfold in a discriminatory way. Right? So we have like, who gets actually prosecuted in cases of sexual assault.
If you look at the data, if the victim is white and the perpetrator is black, the rates of prosecution are way higher than it is for anything. If the victim is a black woman, the prosecution rates are way lower. And so you have this really discriminatory system that already kind of doesn't work with sexual assault, right? Conviction rates are super low, reporting rates are super low. And then at the same time, these laws don't necessarily serve the interests of survivors of sexual violence.
So the main problem is that the perpetrator is usually someone you know, and that's the case with sexual violence, of course, but it's also the case with revenge porn. It's slightly more likely to be a stranger from the internet with revenge porn for obvious reasons. And so then you have all the same problems with sexual violence laws, which is, do you want to send your maybe ex-boyfriend who you're still sort of in love to jail for 10 years?
Sarah: Or who's just a member of your community.
Amy: Yeah, or someone who's a prominent member of your community, or just like someone who is loved and respected by your friends. And so if you send that person to jail for 10 years, you're going to be the pariah in the community. And this is the problem with child sexual abuse too, is that it's usually someone who has some very close relationship to the family, if not a father or stepfather, et cetera. What does it mean to send your stepfather who might be the sole income earner to jail 10 years?
Sarah: It was so much easier when it was Satanists doing this stuff.
Amy: So I think those laws about revenge porn had the same problems, is that if the laws are super harsh, people don't want to use them because you still have a relationship with this person. I mean, the people that harm us, we have a relationship with them. It’s so rare that it's actually just strangers that we just like, yeah, lock them up for 30 years. I don't care.
Mike: But you also want a law for deterrence, right? Otherwise, presumably, if we believe the theories of deterrence, then that behavior would happen more.
Amy: Yeah. I mean if we believe those things.
Sarah: That's a big ‘if’. It’s as big as my boobs when I'm sexting someone I care about.
Amy: No, I mean that is a big ‘if’, especially with the sexual violence laws, I mean, if you look at the stats from rain, they estimated, I can't remember, 1% or 3% of acts of sexual assaults are actually convicted. So is that a deterrent? Right? If 95% to 98% of the time, you can rape someone and get away with it essentially, are the laws against rape actually a deterrent. I mean, I don't know. Right. And I think if rape is going to be illegal, revenge porn should be illegal, that's at least consistent. Right. But I think with both laws and the whole criminal justice system architecture around those laws, they both just suck.
Sarah: Yeah. So why do you think that we have chosen to impose felony charges on teenage girls before we have been willing to talk to them about what feels good to them and how to get it? Why do you think we swerved so much on this?
Amy: Yeah. So like, are you kind of asking, why is patriarchy a thing?
Mike: Start from the beginning. In Babylon…
Amy: All right, with sexting, we’re clearly, I think we're just importing all these sorts of sexist ideas about women and girls and sexuality. Right. And we're importing all of the slut-shaming that we have so much baggage about. I mean, in that sense, it's not surprising at all that our responses to sexting would be basically terrible. Because we want girls to be the gatekeepers of sexuality who are just able to say no to the boys. And that's our plan for preventing unwanted pregnancies and STDs among teens, is just to convince girls that they need to say no better.
Sarah: You have to be an immovable object to stop the unstoppable force, basically, because the unstoppable force isn't going to handle itself in any significant way.
Amy: No, exactly. I mean, I think this is the narrative that we sort of give to girls, especially, that men's sexual desires and violence is just this inevitable force. And your job is to say no, but that's a pretty impoverished version of sexual agency, right? Because if all you can say is no, then you have no option to say yes. Right. And so that's not actually agency. That's just, you're supposed to say no until you don't and then you've failed.
Sarah: I feel like one of the patterns that I see over and over again, as we do this show, is that the untrammeled greed culture of American capitalism, or sort of the patriarchal values that allow for rape to be seen as an inevitable part of male sexuality, to name just two, all of these are recurring ones that this is the way it is. This is nature. And if you are victimized by these things, then it is your problem, and you're the one who has to lock yourself down and avoid being victimized. And then that way society as we know it, America as we know it, sort of American manhood, that can stay how it is. That's inevitable. Everyone else has to change to accommodate that. That just protects us over and over again from being like, can we make men suck less? They would be happier if they were nicer and consensual sex is great, actually. It feels like this is such a recurring thing.
Amy: Yeah, totally. I mean, I think the models of masculinity that we have are bad for women because rape and murder, but they're also bad for men because like they have all these limitations on the type of emotions that they're allowed to feel that are culturally sanctioned. Right? The only one is anger. Men aren't really supposed to feel sad or afraid.
Sarah: That's why I left the new Avengers movie so much, that they’re all hugging.
Mike: So then that's really emotionally stunted
Sarah: Yeah. And then your sexuality has to be a form of anger as opposed to anything else.
Amy: It can't be vulnerability because masculinity is about dominance. It's not about communion or communication or mutuality or respect. It's about dominance. Right. And it's about everything that's not feminine. And of course feeling sadness or fear is feminine. People hear about, oh, patriarchy, feminism, gender, you're saying men have it easy and they have no problems. And that it's, oh, we need to get rid of men. No, the problem is gender, right? The problem is this binary construction of this gender behaves in this way. And this gender behaves in this other way and never the Twain shall meet.
Sarah: And that men, under patriarchy, are the most miserable of them all. And every time you try and have a conversation that allows that misery to maybe get chipped away at a little bit, they're like, no, go away.
Mike: But one thing I'm really curious about- when you go to high schools and give talks to kids, other than the super obvious advice of don't maliciously send around your ex-girlfriend's naked photos of her and don't sexually assault people, what advice do you actually give to boys? How do you think boys should sort of think about sexting and deal with sexting beyond, don't be a complete asshole.
Amy: Yeah. I mean, I think beyond that, just basic consent stuff is it's really about, I think, talking about those sorts of deeper expectations that stereotypes about gender, because people who tend to believe in those gender stereotypes are actually more likely to commit sexual violence. There's some interesting research on that. Is that if you are strongly believing in gender stereotypes, and if you believe in rape myths, you're more likely to perpetrate sexual violence.
So I think deconstructing some of those myths of she was asking for it or for all of those myths about rape can potentially address some of these social problems, but I mean, I can only do this like 25 students at a time. And it's only like a one hour thing. So if someone comes in with a bunch of rape myths in their head, I don't know that an hour is going to fix it.
Mike: Well, do you tell them? I mean, logistically speaking, given the legal realities, do you tell them, delete her photos from your phone immediately? Because it's really hard in a situation where these laws are such bullshit, but they also are laws. And if you get caught in the maws of the criminal justice stuff, that can really derail your entire life.
Amy: Absolutely. And we talk about that, and I talk to them about the fact that if they're sexting with someone of the same gender, they're more likely to get caught and to get prosecuted. If they're sexting with someone of a different race, they're more likely to get caught and prosecuted. If they're in foster care, they're more likely to get caught. Teens are smart, right? We don't give teens a lot of credit, but they understand that it’s illegal and that the consequences are severe, but they also understand that the odds that they're going to get prosecuted are low.
Mike: They're making a calculated risk.
Amy: As we all are every day. Right? We're always making calculated risks and I'm not going to say to them, yeah, go ahead and sext, you're unlikely to get prosecuted, because I can't say that. Right. Cause they could be the unlucky gay teen that ends up being prosecuted because his parents are homophobic and that happens all the time. They need to be aware of the risks, which is what I talked to them about, but I think it's helpful for them to hear someone acknowledging that I understand there are benefits.
Sarah: Yeah. Well, to make my earlier, why does patriarchy exist? Question more answerable, what do you think that people are afraid of about a world where teenage girls are not told, No. It's bad. There's no reason to want it. It's terrible. Don't. And instead being able to grow up with ideas about this is what feels good to me. This is what feels bad to me. I'm going to do what feels good and what makes me feel respected. If we're so afraid of the sexually liberated teenage girl, what do we think is going to happen if they're allowed to feel their own sexualities and act accordingly?
Amy: Yeah. That is a fantastic question. The way I would look at this is I think there's two things happening. One is people think that if they allow these sort of flood gates of female sexual agency to open, then there'll be no countervailing force to the sort of male sexual desire and sexual violence force of nature model. Because if we see male sexual desire and violence, which is of course kind of a continuum, as this force of nature that women and girls have to put barriers up against, then if women and girls take down the barriers, then there will be way more sexual violence.
And so I think people who are afraid of this are really genuinely worried about girls becoming victims of sexual violence, because that is a real thing that happens. Of course we don't think about it in the right way and we assume that it happens in all these different like strangers type scenarios when in fact it doesn't, but we don't want to think about it. What we want to think about is what we have to protect girls. So people who are criminalizing sexting, they really believe, I think, they believe that what they're doing is protecting girls from sexual violence. But I think what they're actually doing is just policing gender boundaries. Because it's all built on this binary distinction between what female sexuality is supposed to look like, it's supposed to be passive and receptive and like saying no until okay, maybe, and male sexuality that's supposed to be like, aggressive and dominant culturally in terms of our narratives, and I don't mean just in porn, look at any romantic comedy, right? I mean everywhere.
Sarah: Yeah, I did a diagram of Love Actually recently and over half of the relationships in that movie are between like a man and a woman he's never spoken to essentially.
Amy: Exactly. One gender is the agent, and the other gender is the object.
Sarah: Right. And how also, if we destroy gender as a binary prison, essentially, then I think there would be less sexual assault.
Amy: Yeah. I mean, sexual assault is so gendered, right? There are male victims, of course, but almost all the perpetrators, like 98% are male. So this is not just like some thing that humans do to each other, that it’s just inevitable. Then it would be 50/50.
Mike: Well, the reason I think sexual violence would get reduced in a world with less rigid gender norms is that the guys would get laid more. They wouldn't have to be worried about having sex or being seen to want to have sex and they could actually have sex with who they wanted to.
I lived in Denmark for six years where they have much less rigid gender norms then we do, and they fuck the hell out of each other. It's incredible. Everybody's getting laid there. There's so many fewer incels because if a girl wants to get with a guy, she can just do it without this terrible three layer game theory in her head of like, is he going to think I'm a slut if I say that I want to sleep with him. You don't have to make as many of those calculations. And so the women sleep with more guys and the guys get laid more and there's less pent up, ridiculous, incel anger, coursing through their veins anymore.
Sarah: And the guys don't have to see women as these pelts that they're carrying as totems of their dominance.
Amy: Gender is bad for everyone.
Mike: We just have to all keep sexting each other constantly to break down all those barriers. Every time you text somebody, I'll be there in five. Boom. Attachment.
Amy: Yeah. I mean, I think my advice to everyone is basically just think about consent more. So you definitely want to make sure you have enthusiastic consent before you take a photo of anyone, obviously, before you send anyone a photo of yourself. So don't send dick pics that are unsolicited.
Mike: Yeah. That's an easy one.
Amy: I mean, you'd think.
Mike: There is no scenario in which an unsolicited dick pic is going to improve your situation.
Sarah: How do you solicit a dick pic verbally?
Mike: Sarah, we need to get you an account on like a gay dating app. There are a number of ways to do that.
Sarah: Okay. Put a pin in that, I'm excited. Continue.
Amy: Yeah. So, I mean, just consent at every level, really. Being explicit about the way you talk about consent. So asking direct questions, can I send you this photo? Do you want to see this photo? Can I share this photo with my friends? Probably not, but if you want to do it, make sure you get permission.
Mike: We have to let you go though. Don't we, Amy?
Amy: Yeah, we do.
Sarah: Amy, thank you so much. You've been amazing. My boobs are so big right now.