Is sexting the new spin-the-bottle?

At a conference this week, an associate professor at York University in Toronto defended sexting (where teens exchange nude and seminude photos of themselves over their cell phones) as a modern day “playing doctor or spin the bottle,” according to an AFP article.

The professor, Peter Cumming, presented a paper on children’s sexuality at the 78th Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, reported the AFP. At the conference, held at Ottawa’s Carleton University for about 8,000 researchers from around the globe, attendees heard that youths who sexted should not face child pornography charges, according to the AFP.

In the United States, some teens have faced such charges. In one case, according to the AFP article, a Florida boy was charged after he sent a photo of his genitalia to a female classmate. Another teen, after e-mailing nude photos of his 16-year-old girlfriend to her family, was listed as a sex offender.

Whether or not sexting should warrant criminal charges will remain a hot button issue, says author and Hollywood media expert Michael Levine.

“We are in unprecedented water,” he says. “We don’t know what the consequences of this will be in 10 years, but we do now that it is much more widespread than people think.”

Levine says that sexting is “extremely widespread and common. If you ask a kid what percentage of her top ten friends sex-texts, they’ll say 100 percent,” he says.

Teens are using technology like cell phones to push the boundaries of flirtation, says Dr. Kathleen Bogle, sociology professor and author of “Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus” (New York University Press).

“To teens, sexting is not some sort of pornographic exchange, but a way to communicate sexual and/or romantic interest in one of their peers,” Bogle says. “Much like spin the bottle games utilized by a previous generation, sexting is something that teens do away from the supervision of adults. However, they believe it is a normal right of passage.”

Some 20 percent of American teenagers said they had participated in sexting, according to a survey by a US family planning organization reported by the AFP.

Bogle says that sexting does not necessarily make kids more promiscuous.

“One mistake adults make is that they assume one means the other,” she says. “Even though sexting is going on, it does not necessarily follow that promiscuity is on the rise.”

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