Adolescence to Armed Forces: Sexting in America

Rolling Stone magazine ran a crazy-compelling article recently about Kristen Ostrenga, AKA "Kiki Kannibal" to her fans and followers. After spending her time embarking on her extra-curricular "soul-sucking" turned obsession as a 14-year-old Internet sex symbol, Kiki had drama, death, and destruction to show for it. But now years later, she still participates in sexualizing herself online, explaining that it's the only way she really knows how to connect with people - even if it's with older men who could care less about who she really is. Great.

At the end of the article Kristen says, "How do you even meet people [offline]? Like, how do you connect with people?" Sadly, her question is actually a great one for teens, who are more electronically connected while more emotionally disconnected than ever before.

How does a modern teenager in our over-stimulated, over-scheduled, over-electronic-addicted-judging-bullying-bomb-setting-suicidal-anxiety-ridden society...connect? Like, really connect. As in, with humans beyond the keyboard. How do they reach their arm out from under the pile of crap made up of a sickly superficial society combined with their parents' bazillion priorities that they claim don't come before their kids, but really do, and feel loved and noticed for who they really are?

Well, not all of them go the Kiki route and take their clothes off while creating music videos online. But many do the next best thing: they sext. Yes, sexting - the act of texting sexual pictures of your body to someone, often resulting in getting caught and saying, "I just wanted to feel like someone noticed me." Double great. We're not talking Playboy, by the way. We're talking Hustler. There's nothing soft-porn about a 16-year-old sending a picture of his penis to a 13-year-old girl followed by the 13-year-old girl sending a picture of her vagina right back, just in time for it to be uploaded to Facebook and sent around school.

But don't worry, sexting isn't just for teens. It's also creeping its way into our armed forces, as the cover of this week's issue of The Marine Corps Times reveals. The few and the proud are also, as it turns out, the sexters. And some, after the trouble that it's caused, can now call themselves 'the unemployed,' 'the prosecuted,' 'the divorced' or 'the locked-up.' Whatever works.

Sexting in the Marines, as some of the stories point out, has a lot to do with missing your loved one and trying to spice things up. But it also spills over into rebelling against the strict rules and regulations of behavior a Marine is held to. Marines have someone constantly paying attention to them, so they rebel-and often for teenagers, the opposite is true.

Some call sexting the modern version of "I'll show you mine if you show me yours," and though that's a decent attempt at a description, I played that game in kindergarten, and it's not the same. Sexting isn't about being curious about what the body of another gender looks like at the ripe and developmentally appropriate age of four. Sexting is a whole other beast...

It's the new: do you see me? Am I important? Maybe if a picture of my vagina is circulating around the school, someone will give me some kind of indication that they know I'm alive. It's the modern way for teens with violently low self-worth to get a second opinion. I'm pretty sure who I am on the inside doesn't matter, so I'll take a pass at making the outsides the focus, and see who cares, and while I'm at it, I'll treat myself the way I feel I deserve to be treated. With disrespect.

The teen years are the years our brains say, 'It's the time to experiment, push the envelope, see what happens.' The scariest part about all of this is that sometimes nothing happens. Sometimes no one stops it, no one says anything, computers aren't locked, phones aren't taken away, teens aren't confronted by their parents. But why? Because that would make your kid mad at you? Because you wouldn't be giving them everything they want and it would cause discomfort and drama in your home for an f'ing minute while your clothed teen sits in their room pissed that you love them so damn much? Tough call. Shocker, Kiki Kannibal's parents left her computer in her room. Note to self.

So what happens after nothing happens? Well, it goes like this: Remove another item of clothing, repeat experiment, see if anyone tries to stop me this time. Maybe they'll see me, maybe they do care about my body, maybe they do respect who I am enough to throw my phone in the toilet and join me in family therapy with a conjoint referral to a weekly self-esteem building group. Or maybe just a hug and a reminder that I'm too good to disrespect my body like that. Maybe. We'll see...

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