Last year three teens in Lacey, Washington, were charged with dissemination of child pornography—a felony punishable by up to 36 weeks in a juvenile detention center and mandatory inclusion in the sex offender registry—after forwarding a nude photo of a former friend that was eventually seen by what some estimate to be hundreds of local kids.
"But when a girl gets a photo from a boy, she thinks it's special and just for her." Teens who pass along licentious texts sometimes do so as retaliation against a kid they don't like, Mihalas adds.Some teens argue that sexting shouldn't be illegal and that exchanging racy photos with a boyfriend you trust can be a nonthreatening way to explore sex without the repercussions of engaging in the act itself."When teachers are hammering you with the scary, nitty-gritty details of sex—yet your friends are pressuring you to do it—engaging in an act reminiscent of sex is almost like a safe compromise," says 20-year-old Lauren,* who often exchanges suggestive pictures and texts with her long-distance boyfriend.Kat, a seventeen-year-old from San Francisco, says her friends sext all day long, ducking into bathrooms between classes to snap provocative shots destined for their boyfriends or simply guys they're interested in. In one case, Kat says, she heard about a boy from a different school printing a photo he'd received and handing out copies.While Kat has never sexted, she admits she's thought about it: "I have a boyfriend now, and sometimes I feel like it might lighten the mood or make things fun," she says.