The legal implications of sexting as a pathway to involvement with child pornography are disturbing enough. But there’s more to this story— much more. Adolescents need to understand that when the explicit images in question are photos of themselves, a whole new dimension of psychological and emotional distress is brought into play. That’s when things can get personal, vicious, and deadly serious. It’s at this point the danger of developing suicidal tendencies and engaging in other forms of self-destructive behavior becomes very real.
Over the past several years there have been a number of reports of teens, both boys and girls, who have taken their own lives after their nude photos, originally sent privately to a boyfriend or girlfriend, were shared publicly online. In some cases the more widespread sharing was a deliberate act of revenge on the part of the boyfriend or girlfriend, carried out in the aftermath of a painful breakup. In others, it was simply an aspect of the generalized meanness of the teen society.
It’s easy to understand why these young people felt that suicide was their only option. The sense of personal violation to which they had been exposed would be devastating for anybody at any age. Such violation is especially unbearable during adolescence, when feelings of every kind are raw, intense, and close to the surface. In the mind of a teen, embarrassment and shame can lead directly to hopelessness and despair. It’s not surprising that some kids come to the conclusion that suicide is the only way out.
On a deeper level, it’s naïve to assume that no one is hurt by sexting simply because it doesn’t involve actual physical contact. That argument ignores the profound emotional, psychological, moral, and spiritual aspects of human sexuality.
When we expose ourselves to another person by getting involved in any form of sexual activity, we become vulnerable. When that happens in a context where the participants have no assurance that they are mutually loved and cherished—when it’s removed from the safety and privacy of the marital relationship—true intimacy is undermined. This can be psychologically destructive to everyone concerned. And it’s worth noting here that teens who sext are far more likely than their peers to engage in intercourse.
Scripture takes a holistic view of sex. It describes it as a whole-life, one-flesh union between a man and a woman. It further teaches that this union is to take place only within the context of a committed marital relationship (Genesis 2:24).
It’s impossible for people to indulge in the counterfeit intimacy of sexting without distorting their perception of this holistic relationship. Such distortion can negatively influence a young person’s future relationship with a spouse. It can also erode self-esteem, self-respect, and a sense of personal identity. This, in turn, can easily lead to deep despair and the development of suicidal tendencies.