If you really love someone, or just want to show them how crazy you are about them, sending a sexually explicit photo from your phone is not the right move.
"When teens are in love, they want to show how much they love each other, so it's natural that they consider sending sexually provocative pictures," said Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy and security lawyer. "Teens are feeling the pressure to do it, but if he really loves you, he won't put you in a position where that picture could get out."
Aftab is one of the experts who speak in "Sexting in America: When Privates Go Public," a 30-minute special airing Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on MTV, in which we take a closer look at the dangers of sexting and the serious repercussions for the people who send and receive naked pictures of peers on their mobile phones and other devices.
Cyber-bullying and sexting incidents have led despondent victims to suicide and serious criminal charges (as well as dismissal from school sports teams and suspension) against those who post or forward explicit pictures.
Aftab said that even if you think the recipient of your message is trustworthy, someone else — a younger brother, parent, friend or romantic rival — could get hold of that picture and use it as a weapon against you.
Images taken of someone under the age of 18 can constitute child pornography, a major felony, according to Aftab. "If you take a picture, you can be accused of producing child pornography. If you send it to somebody, you can be accused of distributing child pornography. And if you keep a picture, you can be accused of possessing child pornography," Aftab explained, noting that people convicted of child pornography charges must register as sex offenders, a designation that can impact your personal relationships, work and dictate where you can live.
You might expect your sext message to remain private, but nearly one in five sext recipients report that they have passed the images along to someone else, with more than half saying that they just assumed others would want to see them, followed by a desire to show off and boredom. According to an MTV poll, three in 10 young people reported that they'd been involved in some type of naked texting.
Sexting has made its way into pop culture through appearances on "90210" and a recent Super Bowl ad featuring Megan Fox for Motorola. Perhaps the most famous celebrity case involved Fall Out Boys' Pete Wentz, who has spoken about how much he regrets the 2006 leak of his full frontal photos.
If you receive a sext, delete it immediately, Aftab recommends. And keep in mind that once you take a photo on your phone, it never goes away. "It could be in a million places and you never know who got a copy," said Aftab. "If you take it on your phone and texted it, a copy exists with your cell phone carrier and on [the recipient's] phone. Maybe he e-mailed it to himself, so now it's on his computer, and if he put it on an SD card and used it on his Xbox, now it's there also. They're also sometimes sold on the digital black market for use on underground Web sites where real child predators love to look at them." If you've sent a sext, she suggests having a discussion with the recipient and then doing your best to delete all copies.
If you or someone you know is a victim of digital abuse, get help now. Experts believe education and dialogue are key to identifying and stopping the spread of digital abuse. Head to AThinLine.org to find ways you can increase national awareness about this issue and be a part of the solution.
The MTV News special "Sexting in America: When Privates Go Public," premieres Sunday, February 14, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.