Generation Sext

In the latest Atlantic cover-story, Hanna Rosin explores the ubiquity of teen sexting:

A consistent finding is that sexting is a pretty good indicator of actual sexual activity. This year, enhanced-buzz-15911-1361559002-10researchers in Los Angeles published a study of middle-schoolers showing that those who sent sexts were 3.2 times more likely to be sexually active than those who didn’t. A story in the Los Angeles Times described the study as proof that “sexting is not a harmless activity.” But in fact the findings seem a little obvious. Since most kids who sext report doing so in the context of a relationship, it makes sense that sex and sexting would go together. As Amy Hasinoff, the author of the forthcoming book Sexting Panic: Rethinking Criminalization, Privacy, and Consent, points out, “Sexting is a form of sexual activity,” not a gateway to it.

But kids also sext, or ask for a sext, or gossip about sexting, for reasons only loosely related to sex. A recent New York Times story explored the practice of “vamping,” or staying up after midnight to check in with friends online. The kids in Louisa County, like kids everywhere, are chronically overscheduled. They stay late at school to play sports or to take part in other after-school activities, then go home and do their homework. Nighttime is the only time teens get to have intimate conversations and freely navigate their social world, argues Danah Boyd, the author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. For the Louisa County kids, that means checking up on the latest drama on Twitter—“Anyone still awake?” is a common post-midnight tweet—and filling up their Instagram accounts, or asking a girl for a pic.

Amanda Hess defines a loaded slang term Rosin encounters in her reporting:

A thot, for the uninitiated, is shorthand for a constellation of riffs on a central theme:

“that ho over there,” “that ho out there,” “thirsty hoes out there.” On the surface, it appears to be a synonym for slut. (And for rappers and Internet meme producers, it is conveniently both easy to rhyme and effortless to pun.) But the thot label is wielded to indicate class status as much as it refers to sexual activity. Thots are criticized based on sexual behavior, yes, but they’re more broadly identified via their consumption habits; this makes it possible to denounce them on sight even when their sexual histories remain private. …

The archetypical thot, as constructed through memes circulated on Instagram and Twitter, drinks cheap alcohol, eats Chipotle, uses a Metro PCS phone card, and shops at mall staple Aeropostale. She has a beauty mark piercing on her upper lip, just as the “tramps” who came before her sported tattoos on their lower backs. She is“grocery shopping in heels looking like” she’s “going to the EBT awards.” In their most absurd forms, thot memes position thotness as a quality that’s predestined from birth: A thot is named “Jasmine” or “Sasha,” and she stands 5-foot-1 to 5-foot-5. Most of the time, she’s black.

(Screenshot via Matt Stopera)