Let’s Talk, for real, about Nude Selfies: a Concerned Mom’s Response.

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This is a response to an Elephant Journal article I read this past week about how nude selfies are the new norm and all good.

Let me skip to the punch line: I object.

I’m a straight, white, married, sexually expressive, feminist mom of two teenage girls, and I am unwilling to start this conversation politely with “he raises a good point,” or “but among consenting adults,” or “I’m okay, you’re okay, let’s all be okay.”

Oh hell no.

But not for the reasons you’re thinking—probably.

Want to talk about the merits of d*ck pics and boob pics and naked selfies at the pub on Main after work on a Thursday, at a tall, sticky table, perched on bar stools, with a pitcher and french fries among us?

Cool. Let’s talk nude selfies.

Let’s swap stories and opinions and be titillated and giggly, or serious and reflective. We can talk politicians and celebrities. We can debate the shaming of women versus our sexual liberation and the muddied waters of morality. We can share whether we have, ourselves, or haven’t, and whether we like it, or don’t.

I have zero judgment about that. None. I’m interested in what you have to say.

Want to take that same conversation and publish the advocating side of it in a legitimate online magazine? With a legitimate following? One that is searchable online? By children and teens?

Double hell no.

Why? Because doing so contributes to the confusion that is ruining our kids, and completely dismisses the complexities they’re trying to navigate.

It is ignorant of how hard we are working as parents to keep our kids emotionally healthy and out of the crosshairs of cyberbullying and bad sexting decisions. We are working hard to keep our kids safe and alive in a time when suicide is not an unforeseen outcome of either of those activities.

And our next biggest fear? Let my kid please, please not be a sexual aggressor.

An opinion piece that touts the benefits of sharing nude pics gives any 14-year-old boy—all hormones and fumbling confusion, doing his best to figure out this intimacy/sex thing—an article in hand. He gets to show his buddies so they can all nod and grin in the locker room because an “authoritative source” that came up when he searched “nude selfies” says it’s normal and healthy to share below the waist flesh pics, and to ask for them. I can already imagine them thinking, “Girls probably even want to send them…and receive them, right?”

Articles like this give our young men, who are trying so hard to get it right, bad information. Destructive and harmful information. And it gives our girls, who are already struggling with hypersexualization and body dysmorphic disorder bad information.

Any young boy can now wave this source in the face of any 12 or 15 or 17-year-old girl as justification that she is “out of the norm” if she doesn’t want to share naked pictures of herself, or at least one in her underwear. She’s the weird one.

Taken to the logical next step, hormonal, self-conscious, still-figuring-it-out teenage girls shouldn’t dare to decline, lest they shame said boy for his tastes and requests. He’s entitled, as a normal, healthy, young man, to ask for naked pictures. Doesn’t she know? Hasn’t she heard?

Look, this Elephant Journal article clearly says so:

“If you search for polling data, you will find that anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of people have sent provocative photos to lovers, partners, husbands, and wives. While the data is not fully conclusive, there is no question that sending provocative photos via digital means is a common modern practice.” 

My heart broke here.

As long as men are asking women for naked pics, or sharing their own, and those requests are published as normative in public spaces, boys will be asking girls for the same, with systemic support from our media.

So let’s talk about the consequences.

The consequences for our teens and tweens are not equally distributed, but they are real for all genders. The shame for a teenage girl on her first foray into that level of trust and vulnerability? For a young man who is just newly brave enough to share that he is gay? And having that trust breached with the circulation of those images? It is life-altering—if not life-ending. If you’re paying attention, you know this is true.

Naked pics are not just for kicks—they’re not tools for masturbation, or a turn on, and they’re certainly not for real intimacy. They are wicked sharp, excruciating, and accessible tools for cyberbullying and blackmail. And when they involve a minor, they are also—by the way—illegal.

The victimized 13-year-old girl who takes a picture of herself is in breach of the law, and can be prosecuted as circulating or being in possession of child pornography. Anyone else who circulates that photo? Same deal. And if you’re confused about how harsh the punishments are, this might make it more clear.

Still want to advocate for it being a normal, beautiful expression of human sexuality? To our youth?

As a human, I am tired of cleaning up the messes we’ve made for our children, for the next generation of leaders and creators and innovators. I’m tired. And as a mom, I want my daughters to have a healthy relationship with their own sexuality. I use those very words with them.

I want them to know themselves and their preferences. I want them to have healthy, mutually satisfying relationships because they are equipped to ask for what they want (sexually and otherwise) and because they are equipped to say no (and choose people who respect their boundaries). I want them to learn to recognize abusers and manipulators from a mile away.

My daughters and I talk about this when we consider book choices and movie choices, and we use it to talk about what can happen at school or with the misuse of their phones. I want them to know someone might ask for naked pics, and they should decline. I want them to know that this someone might get angry or hostile, acting like it’s owed to them. It isn’t.

I want them to know it doesn’t stop when they’re adults, so they need to learn to navigate it—now.

I recently had an old friend, a man, ask me for photos—reminder, I am married. He was a friend from back in my college days, when we were young and dumb together. He was mostly kidding, maybe—the guesswork is mine to do—but he still got a slap upside the head.

I want my girls to know that if they ever cross this line and decide to share pictures of themselves and it goes sideways, their dad and I have their back. We, their parents, will not add to their shame, but will help them navigate what feels like a terrifying, no-way-out kind of place. We will clean it up and sort it out and heal together.

Our kids are smart and trying to do well, but they’re also shortsighted. They don’t know to ask questions about that 50-90 percent who have shared nude pics. What percentage of those shared photos were consensual? How many of those are dudes sending pics of their “manhood” to women, who are gagging and dropping their phones on the other end?

And how do we possibly help our kids develop normal, healthy, adult sexual relationships and forms of sexual expression if they have been objectified and dehumanized since they were 12?

We, the parents who are paying attention, are sick of cleaning up after you. After ourselves and our own mistakes. Our youth are stumbling around in the dark looking for guidance, and end up turning to the internet more than ever. There are too many issues for me to tackle when it comes to our children and “nude selfies,” so let me pause and reiterate: I object.

I object to publishing articles like the one I read on Elephant Journal recently—and naming it an Editor’s Pick, no less.

But you should also know that as I write this, my chest is tight and my legs are numb. I’m writing slowly.

I’m concerned I will do a disservice to a super complicated issue by trying to address it in a single response. I’m nervous about pissing off sister feminists by not tackling all the issues (so, so many) that live inside this issue. I’m afraid of being labeled a prude, or a fanatic, or anything at all.

I’m afraid my words will be misinterpreted as judging or slut-shaming women who choose to share nude, semi-nude, sexy, or provocative photos of their own bodies.

But I am far more afraid for our children. For our teenage girls, who are trying to grow into sovereign women of substance and confidence in this age of media-supported hypersexualization. And for our teenage boys, who are learning that asking or pressuring girls for naked selfies and then reducing them to nothing more than what’s on a screen are what make them men.

And this time, they’ll have an Elephant Journal article in hand to drive the point home.

I love Elephant Journal, and am proud to be participating in the Elephant Academy this session, but I’m also disappointed that they chose to feature this article. At the very least, it should have been marked as “Adult,” in mindful consideration of those who could be impacted by the opinion piece. At the very best, it should be taken down.

A closing note for anyone feeling the pain of cyberbullying or considering suicide, please know that you are not alone. Support is available. If you need help, please call (in the United States) the National Youth Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website. If you’re outside the United States, a quick search for cyberbullying resources will help you.

~

author: Sheila Delaney Duke

Image: @walkthetalkshow/Instagram

Image: YouTube

Editor: Nicole Cameron

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Lea Scott Feb 26, 2019 5:01pm

Thank you thank you thank you. As a high school educator, I thank you.

    Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 27, 2019 12:57am

    Lea – You’re so welcome. And thank you for the work you do with our youth. I honor you and was thinking about how much you all have to handle, even as I wrote this piece.

Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 26, 2019 12:46pm

From the author:
I’m grateful this is adding to, or in some cases, starting conversations.

A couple of notes, since this one article is focused on just a sliver of a big conversation.

1. But for a couple of references, this article speaks primarily to heterosexual, cis gender culture, which happens to be my context. The issue applies to the whole of the LGBTQ community of kids, too, right now. Kids and teens of all genders, gay and straight, are figuring this out, and are vulnerable to making short-sighted decisions with life-altering consequences, based on how our culture currently views the matter.

2. Most kids are good kids, doing their best. That’s my belief. Not all boys are after naked selfies. Girls can be cruel when they get their hands on photos of other girls, too, using them to bully, shame, and blackmail. But not all kids weaponize them even if they have them.

Still. There’s too much at risk to not persist in having the conversation.

And with that. I thank you. Let’s keep talking wherever we are. And may these conversations be of benefit.

Mark LaPorta Feb 25, 2019 1:29pm

EJ loves to turn an occasional event into “everybody’s doing it…”
and a minority into a majority (Disraeli-Twain Statistics)

NOTE THAT “If you search for polling data, you will find that anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of people have sent provocative photos to lovers, partners, husbands, and wives. While the data is not fully conclusive, there is no question that sending provocative photos via digital means is a common modern practice.” IS NOT THE SAME AS NUDE SELFIES. Or are the words “provocative” and “lover” mis-statement?
And you trust polls?

I’m glad you attacked this way. I was a pre-teen when Uncle J left Playboys around and I was 12 when I saw real porn with monstrous maws. I was capitivated — and it caused subtle but definite damage. I do NOT want teen girls exploited, even by them selves.

MOTHERS tell your children, not do DOOOO as IIIII have done…

We live in a sick society, but you know that there is no such thing as society. It is a nebulous construct made of people. IF each of us were to do the RIGHT thing for ourselves and our lovers and children, it WILL be OK.

Not if we’re selling stuff, like ad space or CBD oil or Miley Cyrys.

So. Well-written.
NOW READERS, what are you going to do about it?

    Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 27, 2019 12:59am

    Thanks for your thoughts, here, Mark. And thanks for sharing a piece of your story. I’m grieved that you suffered that so young. May your healing continue and may the conversation continue. And great question – readers – what do we do about this?

Haley Sage Feb 23, 2019 10:41am

Sending a (bow), Sheila. Your article is so well-expressed and thoroughly researched. Thank you for daring to have a real conversation. Glad to know you!

    Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 23, 2019 11:23pm

    Haley! Thank you. May there be more real conversations! I feel more coming on this one…so much more I am curious about. (bow)

Sandra Peace Feb 22, 2019 10:48am

My children are grown and I have no grandchildren, yet I completely agree with and support what is said here. I read a lot on the internet and do not agree with much of it, but as a woman in my 60s, I have the background and self awareness to own up to my own feelings whether aloud or simply to walk away from a situation. Teenagers are trying so hard to be ‘normal’ not knowing that ‘normal’ doesn’t exist as they perceive. Thank you for this article.

    Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 23, 2019 11:21pm

    Sandra, you are so right. Teenagers are looking for normal and creating it without even realizing it. I’m glad to know this is of service. Thank you for reading and taking the time to respond and be part of the raising of voices for our youth. Warmly. S

Joe Cyr Feb 22, 2019 5:24am

Sheila,

My wife and I love what you did here. Great points, cutting truth, and a whole lot of passion. You’re such a mindful Mom. Cheers.

    Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 23, 2019 12:37am

    You’re the best! Thanks to you and your wife.

Majda Moskatelo Feb 21, 2019 3:39pm

Thank you for this article, I love it. I’m afraid to bring kids to this kind of world and I can imagine, even feel, fear of any mother.

    Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 21, 2019 5:45pm

    You’re welcome Majda. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. It’s a wild time, to be sure, but lots of good things too. If we do it well, the kids can save the world for us all.

Amanda Banman Feb 21, 2019 12:18pm

Thank you for writing this article! I’m a mother of teenagers and I have had this conversation with my children too many times to count. That’s not to say they won’t make mistakes and do things they will regret. I know I have.
I thought sending ‘nudes’ to my partner was harmless & fun, but then we broke up & he tried to blackmail me with them. Threatening to post them online & send them to my parents. I have learned some valuable lessons in my life and that is one of them. But like you said there is so much more to this issue. I’m so glad you wrote this article. Very timely!

    Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 21, 2019 5:31pm

    I’m so glad you’re having these conversations with your kids. I’m cheering us all on. And I’m sorry for the emotional violence done to you by your ex, with those photos. It’s awful, and I suspect there’s going to be a new world order (if the mamas have a say) that we are so much more than a set of photos, and the shaming? Isn’t ours. So warmly. S

Nicole Johnson Feb 21, 2019 9:29am

Shelia,

Wow! I didn’t read the article that you rebutted, but as a mother of 2 daughters ( 13, and 9 ), and 2 step-daughters (11 and 9), I am so grateful that you have spoken out about this. I immediately shared it on Facebook. I feel it’s a topic that needs to be discussed more, and not just the ” kids should or shouldn’t be sending nudes”, but the deeper complexities below the sending or asking for nudes. We need to be taking it more seriously and talking about the life altering consequences that can happen from sending nudes. These are our children, and they need to have people like you in their corner shining light on this matter and standing up for what you believe in. So, thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 21, 2019 5:28pm

    Cheering you on, mama! It is, indeed, such a complex and nuanced set of issues. And that’s what makes it so tough, I think, to set rules around or to have meaningful conversation around. It’s so darned context specific, and as Chris said, below your comment, the texting culture provides a false sense of intimacy that’s tricky. I really appreciate the encouragement, of me, too. Thanks. My biggest hope with this piece? May it please, please be of service, somewhere. Cheers!

Chris Geraghty Feb 21, 2019 6:02am

Thank you for writing this. Our texting culture gives people such a false sense of communication and intimacy, and that is virtually the only way most teens have learned to interact socially. It is no surprise then that they can’t see the negative consequence that are possible from sending nude pics. Your article also gives any thoughtful adult reasons to reconsider why they are sending and receiving their own pics.

    Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 21, 2019 5:25pm

    Chris – you nailed it. A false sense of intimacy in this texting culture is exactly what’s up. Thanks for naming it and for taking a moment to comment, and for the word of encouragement on writing this, too. I appreciate it.

Chelsea Thom Feb 20, 2019 8:20pm

Oh my gosh- I am so scared of having a teenager and all the thoughtful considerations I will have. I wouldn’t have thought of this when I read the rebutted article but I agree that it should be labeled adult- thanks for speaking up

    Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 21, 2019 5:23pm

    Thanks Chelsea. I appreciate the vote of confidence and knowing this impacted you. I can’t think of any reason a non-mom of t(w)eens would think about this, reading the original article. I doubt I would have. It’s a whole new world out there!

ladyb417 Feb 20, 2019 6:13am

Thank you for saying this! Thank for seeing something you disagreed with and not stepping over it. I would hate to be a kid today. They have so many pressures.

    Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 20, 2019 12:44pm

    Right? We have exactly zero legs to stand on with the whole idea we had it tough. Our kids have to be smarter, quicker, braver, stronger, and wiser sooner than I ever had to be. (And thanks for the encouragement for not stepping over. If anything will motivate me to do that more, it will be our youth.)

sparra75 Feb 20, 2019 5:05am

What a great article , i couldn’t agree more. I have shared it with encouragement to friends of teenagers to use it as a conversation starter around a topic that needs to be spoken a lot more about.

    Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 20, 2019 12:00pm

    It does need more voice behind it. Thanks for commenting and sharing – that’s where we begin and where I am trying to do more and more. May I persist. May we all. The dinner table. The coffee shop. Media. All of it.

    Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 20, 2019 12:11pm

    It does need more voice behind it. Thanks for commenting and sharing – that’s where we begin and where I am trying to do more and more. May I persist. May we all.

waitensee Feb 19, 2019 11:07pm

Thank you for this Sheila! Trying to raise a good son on my own, and articles like yours give me courage and hope.

    Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 20, 2019 12:37am

    Kudos to you and cheering you on, mama! May you be frequently renewed and refreshed with words of encouragement and hope, in both likely and unlikely places, whenever you need them. He got just the right mum, he did.

    Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 25, 2019 1:07pm

    Wow. Catching my own gender bias in my response. I can’t tell if you’re mum or dad. And my apologies if the latter. May I reiterate:

    Kudos to you and cheering you on, papa! May you be be encouraged regularly, from both likely and unlikely places, whenever you need it. He got just the right dad, he did.

Tracy Neely Feb 19, 2019 7:07pm

Sheila, I am so with you on this! My son is 12 years old and as much as my husband and I desire for our son to be an independent thinker and not a follower, we are living in a world of shock and awe. I appreciate you taking a standing for your girls, children around the world and parents who are just doing their best day by day. My son isn’t on social media yet and we are slow for that to happen, but we know that not every parent thinks the same and so we continue to have conversations around subjects like this and so much more.

    Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 19, 2019 10:21pm

    Thanks Tracy. They’re working so hard to grow up well – it makes me so sad that we make it harder for them.

bergwiese Feb 19, 2019 6:38pm

Sheila, your article and the compassionate and fierce boundary that you set is a breath of fresh air. You so directly address the matter while also honoring its complexity, and I appreciate that so much. Especially the knowledge that it is actually illegal to take naked photos of minors- I learned that from you, and will pass it on!

    Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 19, 2019 10:23pm

    I’m so glad to know you had a concrete take away from the reading, and I’m grateful you took the time to read and comment. May our boundaries all be held fiercely and compassionately held. x

Janice Dolk Feb 19, 2019 3:03pm

Sheila, I did not read the article you are rebutting, I will check it later. However, I hear your passion, anger, concern through your well spoken words. I agree, and, I honor your sharing this important information. Thank you.

    Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 19, 2019 5:29pm

    Thanks Janice. I appreciate your response – I do feel strongly about the topic!

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Sheila Delaney Duke

Sheila Delaney Duke falls in love daily with our creative, wandering, flailing, triumphant, stumbling, falling, dust-ourselves-off and go-it-again selves. She lives to illuminate meaning and purpose in all the places and has spent the better part of the past 20 years as a mentor, teacher, and coach, with a deep commitment to elevating the felt, human experience. Connect with her on Instagram and explore more on her website.