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Consent: The rules around sexting

28 Oct 2015

A new study has explored how people are being advised on the issue of consent, particularly with regard to sexting.

A.A. Hasinoff, from the University of Colorado, compared the advice on consent provided in well-known lifestyle magazines’ general sex-advice articles and those geared specifically to ‘sexting’.

Hasinoff was particularly interested in discovering whether the ‘digital mediation’ of interpersonal sexual communication changed views about how, when and if consent should be secured. Hasinoff reveals her conclusions in the National Communication Association’s journal Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies.

Both mobile phone communication and the genre of sex advice writing are often criticised, the former as unkind and the latter as sexist. Yet some research indicates that digitally mediated communication may have some advantages, particularly when disinhibition might confer benefits such as personal expression or resisting coercion and sexual harassment.

“The sex advice articles rarely mention the importance of seeking consent, and when they reference communication between partners, this vital practice is presented as an optional enhancement to sex,” says Hasinoff.“In fact, the majority of the general sex advice articles simply describe sexual techniques and do not have any communication or consent advice at all.” 

In contrast, encouraging good communication and securing consent are common in the advice directed to would-be ‘sexters’.

“In particular, the sexting advice often notes that sexting can enhance an intimate connection, enable sexual connection between people who are physically apart, make it easier to express one’s sexual desires, [or] can serve as a form of flirting or foreplay in anticipation of an in-person sexual encounter,” Hasinoff explains.

Hasinoff notes that the advice geared specifically toward sexters often alludes to the fact that unwanted sexts could harm or harass the recipient, and that a sender’s privacy must be respected.

Because it is difficult for people to see or anticipate the consequences of their actions when sexting, lovers are regularly advised to be “cautious rather than cavalier when sending sexual content”.

“The general sex advice tends to rely on the conventional model that implicit consent is easily ascertained,” Hasinoff says.

“But since texting often involves a lack of body language cues or immediate feedback, sexting tips writers seem to perceive a greater potential for ambiguity or miscommunication,” she says.

“This disrupts the usual assumptions about consent, and in their place, the popular online sexting advice instead advocates for some elements of an affirmative consent standard by cautioning that sexters must not take consent for granted.”

This thought-provoking article offers a new way to think about the perils of sexting – and reminds us just how much mobile phones have changed the way we communicate with one another.

A.A. Hasinoff ‘s article, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, published by Taylor & Francis can be read in full here.

 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14791420.2015.1077980

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