By conventional measures, American teenagers have become prudish. Less than half of high-school students are having sex, with fewer partners and more contraception than the generation before them. Teen-pregnancy rates have never been lower. But those indicators no longer offer a complete picture: online, teens are bucking the trend. In 2019, among 12- to 17year-olds, 14% reported sending nude images, compared with 12% three years earlier; 23% received them, up from 19%. The steady climb may reflect rising smartphone use and changing social norms. What it certainly reflects, says Justin Patchin, of the University of WisconsinEau Claire, is that “the current approach to stop this isn’t working.”

按以往的标准衡量,美国青少年对于性变得更保守了。少于半数的高中生有性生活,与上一代人相比,性伴侣数量更少,更注重避孕。青少年怀孕率达到新低。但这些信息并没有呈现出完整的景象:在网络上,潮流恰恰相反。在2019年,12-17岁的青少年中,14%的人说他们发送过裸照,三年前这一数据是12%;23%的人说他们收到过裸照,三年前这一数据是19%。数据的稳步增长或许反映了越来越多人在使用智能手机以及社会规范正在改变。威斯康星大学欧克莱尔分校的贾斯汀·帕钦说:“这无疑反映了目前阻止该行为的方法不管用。”


Those reactions are understandable. But they are based on misconceptions of the problem. “We wasted so much time trying to figure out why kids were sexting,” laments Joris Van Ouytsel of the University of Antwerp, who began studying the topic in 2013. More important, researchers now broadly agree, is the context in which children are doing it. Just as it is offline, consent is vital. Things go wrong when teenagers pressure and coerce others, most often girls and younger teenagers, to send nude photos; or forward them to someone else, as happens in 4% of cases.

这些反应是可以理解的。但是它们基于对该问题的错误认识。“我们浪费了太多时间试图弄清楚为什么孩子们会发送色情短信。”安特卫普大学的乔里斯·范·奥伊特塞尔这样感叹道,他从2013年起便开始研究这一问题。研究人员现在大都认为,更为重要的是弄清楚孩子们发送色情短信的事件背景。和在现实生活中一样,双方自愿非常重要。如果青少年胁迫他人(通常是胁迫女孩或者更年轻的青少年)发送裸照,或是将照片转发给他人(在色情短信事件中有4%的发生率),问题就产生了。


“We have to stop being distracted by the fact that sexting involves digital technology,” says Elizabeth Englander, director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Centre. Instead, she argues, it is “part and parcel of sexual development”. The internet has spawned novel abuses with widerthan-ever reach, but they tend to mirror those in the real world. For instance, more than a quarter of teenagers in relationships suffer “digital-dating abuse”, where one partner uses technology to snoop on, threaten or stalk the other; 35.9% of teenage victims have also suffered that offline.

马萨诸塞州攻击减少中心的主管伊丽莎白·英格兰德说:“我们不应再将注意力放在色情短信涉及了数字技术这一点上。”相反,她认为:“这是性发育很重要的一部分。”互联网催生了比以往范围更广泛的新型侮辱行为,但这些行为映射了那些在现实世界中发生的行为。比如,在有恋爱关系的青少年中,多于四分之一的人遭受过“数字约会侮辱”,他们的伴侣在网络上窥探、威胁或跟踪他们。35.9%的青少年受害者在现实生活中也有这些遭遇。



Laypeople, though, will probably “cringe”, “even recoil” at it, Mr Hinduja admits, “because it counters everything they have been taught” about sexting. Some concerns are age-old, such as that children will as a result have more sex, online or off. Others are new. Encryption meant to protect minors’ identity could complicate child-pornography investigations. Without a formal curriculum, parents can still talk to their children about how to be good “digital citizens”. But some translation may be required. “When we say ‘sexting’, kids know we’re boomers,” says Darren Laur, a 55-year-old former law-enforcement official who now runs a digital-literacy company. “They say ‘send nudes’.”

辛杜贾先生承认,“外行人可能会对此感到不安甚至是反感,因为这项教育有悖于他们对于色情短信的认知。”有一些担忧存在已久,比如孩子们会因此在线上或线下发生更多的性行为。还有一些新的担忧:保护未成年人身份的加密技术会令对于儿童色情的调查更加复杂。即便没有正式的课程设置,家长们还是可以跟孩子们谈一谈如何做一个好的“网民”。但有必要对一些用语进行解释。“当我们说‘发送色情短信’的时候,孩子们就知道我们是婴儿潮一代*的人”,一名55岁目前在管理一家数字技术普及公司的前执法官员戴伦·劳尔说道,“他们会说‘发裸照’。”
*有利禁欲教育:即禁欲教育是首选,但如果一些孩子不禁欲的话,学校也应当教授避孕套和避孕的知识。
*婴儿潮一代:在美国,婴儿潮一代是指二战结束后,1946年初至1964年底出生的人,人数大约有7800万。