A Maria Carrillo High School sophomore girl and 21-year-old man started out just being friends.
“He had been sending pictures regularly with clothes on,” said the sophomore. But on Dec. 21, that all changed.
One evening she opened a text message to find five nude photographs of the man. One of them was a close-up of his genitals; one showed him masturbating.
Sexting is the act of sending or receiving semi-nude or nude photos through text messages or written texts using sexual language.
A national survey in 2008 by TRU, a global leader in research on teenagers and young adults, noted that 20 percent of teens overall said they are sending nude or semi-nude videos or photos of themselves on phones.
A recent poll of 75 randomly selected Maria Carrillo High juniors and seniors showed that 54 percent admitted to sending sexually suggestive messages through text, and 26percent admitted to sending nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves.
“I’m not surprised at all by those numbers”, said Maria Carrillo Vice Principal Rand Van Dyke. “They are pretty much on point.”
“Sex is such a big discussion in our age group,” said senior Maria Ruiz. “It seems likely that we would send sexts. It makes sense that it would be that number.”
Twenty percent of the students polled admitted that a person over the age of 18 had shared with them a sexual text message or a nude or semi-nude picture.
“He was always texting sweet and protective things . .. But recently he has been asking for pictures,” said the sophomore. “Guys always ask for pictures, but I never send any.”
“I’ll send you a picture. I am not embarrassed of what I have,” the man said via text messaging.
After sending the pictures, the girl replied “Oh my God” out of disbelief.
The man replied, “It’s our little secret. Did you think I would be that big?”
Sexting can ruin relationships, even friendships.
“I’m skeptical of even talking to him,” the sophomore said. “I’m still so young. Now it’s there on my phone.”
On Dec. 3, MTV with Facebook and MySpace launched “A Thin Line,” a Web site and commercials urging teenagers to stop the spread of cyber bullying, sexting and digital dating abuse. They have produced a series of MTV commercials advocating the halt of digital and cyber abuses.
One short video, “Rachel’s Sext,” explains how “an instant could become a lifetime” by sending a nude photograph and having it spread around the school.
Twenty percent of all teenagers have sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves, and 39 percent of teenagers overall have sent sexts, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Sexting is a “good way for people to hide behind a screen,” said Santa Rosa Police Officer Paul Messerschmitt, Maria Carrillo’s campus officer.
He said there were two or three incidents of sexting at Maria Carrillo in last fall’s semester.
“This is not the norm, but it is more than I’d like to deal with,” said Van Dyke.
When a cell phone is found by school officials with sexual text messages on it, it is evaluated on normal merits, such as sexual harassment and suspension, Van Dyke said.
When pictures are found, “the law gets involved,” Van Dyke said.
“For harassing text messages, it is considered a misdemeanor. For any naked photos, it is a felony. You will be accountable for your actions,” Messerschmitt said.
Naked pictures of a minor, whether hard copy or on a computer or a cell phone are considered child pornography, even if a minor has them, Van Dyke and Messerschmitt said.
Forty-nine percent of the students who took the sexting poll admitted to not knowing that sexting was considered sexual harassment or, in certain cases, illegal.
“There have been MCHS students arrested in the past,” said Messerschmitt.
“Teens are oblivious to the ramifications of this. If you think about teens and the risky things they do, like drinking, driving fast and drugs, this is one other risky behavior,” said Van Dyke.
The poll takers said teenagers sext because of “raging hormones,” “it’s human nature to have sex drives” and “they do it in hopes they will alter on really do it with the responding person.”
“Texting is very important for many teens, so it just makes sense they would sext,” said an anonymous junior.
This article first appeared in Maria Carrillo High School’s Puma Prensa newspaper.