In the UK, Conservative MP and Secretary of Health Jeremy Hunt has proposed a plan to ban sexting for under 18s. Under Mr Hunt’s recommendations, social media companies should have a policy in place which bans those under 18 sending sexually explicit messages. Mr Hunt believes, amongst other things, that the sending and receiving of sexual messages affects mental health of young people.
While we see a positive in the UK government acknowledging online safety, Mr Hunt’s proposal shows just how wildly out of touch the government is and how misunderstood Internet and teen culture in 2016 really is.
In the UK, there’s a law in place which rightly criminalises the making and distribution of indecent images of those under 18 – this even applies if two 15 year olds, for example, were sending the messages to each other. This law is in place to, amongst other things, to stop young people being exploited.
“Can’t Wait To…”
But how do you even begin to define “sexting”. How could Mr Hunt and his colleagues identify what is a sexually explicit message between two people and what is “joking banter”? Where do you draw the line? Once boobs are mentioned? Once the word ‘lick’ is typed out? Or does it just go to genitalia? Is a sext really a sext if you’re only talking about conventional sex?
Where’s the line? Which leads us onto our next point…
BRB – Going To Jail
How is Jeremy Hunt going to police this? Does it take someone over 18 to report sexting between two people? And what would be the consequence? Surely we can’t throw two 15 year olds in jail for sending flirty, sexual texts? Nor can they be fined- because Lord knows we don’t know many teens with a spare £40.
Correct us if we’re wrong but surely Jeremy Hunt’s plan doesn’t take into consideration the amount of texts sent every day? And with new social media platforms constantly emerging, the law would have to be updated on a regular basis? And that’s before we even discuss the fact that this law could take us every further into a nanny state. Are we ready to be watched constantly not for fear of national safety but for our sexual behaviours?
Sexuality Is About More Than Sex
Banning sexting demonises sexual behaviour and sexual thoughts within young people. Acknowledging ones sexual thoughts and exploring ones sexual feelings is a vital part of discovering your identity and starts as soon as puberty hits and doesn’t finish until, well, the end of ones life. In a current political climate were people are seriously struggling to be heard, trying to enforce the banning of an act of communication feels like we’re turning into an ever growing police state.
One of the biggest and best things YouTube has done in its last decade is give voices to those who otherwise wouldn’t have been heard. Coming out videos and videos discussing sexuality in general are a key resource for people of all ages across the globe and aid an ever-growing accepting society. If Mr Hunt and the British government were to ban sexing for under 18s, we’d be rewinding and being told all we’ve come to learn about being open, consensual and happy with ones sexuality is wrong.
In one of the most ground-breaking videos of 2016, Riyadh K used the platform to discuss with his parents how they felt when he came out as gay. The video was one of the most emotionally charged we’ve ever seen and proved that the Internet has helped us all understand sexuality more than ever before.
Education, Not Policing
Seemingly Mr Hunt doesn’t understand just how educated teens are regarding sexuality. Before YouTube, teens were nowhere near as educated about consent but now it’s a widely discussed topic online that’s not just brushed over a la a traditional sex education class.
The failure to understand that teens understand consent and when engaging in any form of consensual sexting, they’re doing it because they’re educated young people who are exploring their sexuality and enjoying it. Something which we’re constantly fighting to achieve. In the UK at least, we’re lucky enough to live in a society where homosexuality isn’t a crime and as women we’re allowed to enjoy sex and vocalise that fact. To take away sexting would take away a huge part of a liberal society which millennials and Internet culture has made happen.
Whilst there’s certainly a need to still inform young people around the dangers of everything from being sexually exploited to talking to strangers on the Internet, education is the way forward and not putting an outright ban on something.
Sexting Is More Than Putting A Banana On A Condom
Creators are working tirelessly to make content which gives a voice to millions. As a community, we’re lucky enough to be able to talk about pressing issues online and we’re proud of the likes of Laci Green, Hannah Witton, Calum McSwiggan and Melanie Murphy for constantly being education and progressive with their content.
Making content they didn’t see themselves as teens, YouTubers such as Grace Victory and Lindsey Doe are using their power to educate and inform in ways putting a condom on a banana never could. Unlike our elders, we actively and openly discuss and educate ourselves on everything from STIs to same sex relationships, types of sexuality to masturbation. We know what we like, what we don’t and where our moral boundaries lie as a result- this is something Jeremy Hunt has clearly underestimated.
The UK government should use the power and money that would be spent on putting this act in place to talk to a bunch of young people and social media influencers about how they can work together to educate an generation so they grow up enjoying consensual and happy sexual experiences.