Queeries: Sexting is the official ‘unsafe sex’ of the century

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By: Steven Petrow*

“My boyfriend wants me to sext him”

Q: Many of my friends are sending naked pictures of themselves to their boyfriends, and they don’t seem to think twice about it. I’m a competitive gymnast on my high school’s team, and the guy I’ve been dating for a couple of months says he wants to be able to look at my body even when we’re not together because he loves me. He’s even emailed me a real keeper of a photo-completely naked, which I do enjoy looking at. But I’m kind of uncomfortable about doing this and I don’t really know what to say. Any suggestions?

A: I’ve been asked about teenage sexting quite a lot lately, and I’d have to say that it’s now officially the “unsafe sex” of this century. How big is the problem? In 2009, a study by the AP and MTV reported that nearly one-fourth of 14 to 17 year olds had been involved in some kind of naked sexting. And more and more we’re reading stories of sexting gone wild. Sometimes there’s a criminal prosecution for the distribution of childhood pornography; sometimes schools suspend or expel those found guilty; and always there’s deep embarrassment to the victim (who usually sent the original photo).

Believe me, I do understand that sexting is seen as a way to express your love and trust of someone, that it’s a status symbol of being sexually active (some refer to it as an “electronic hickey”), and that you can’t get STDs or get pregnant from sexting. Fine and good. I also know that it isn’t always easy to just say no.

As for you, trust your instincts. Just because so many other guys are doing it, that doesn’t mean it’s right or that you should follow suit. If the guy you’re dating keeps pressuring you to reciprocate, think hard about whether this is someone you want to be so involved and intimate with. Even if he claims that he’s “different,” you’re definitely not too young to be cautious, if not suspicious. Say something like, “I’m really not comfortable doing this,” or “My parents are really nosy and watch my texting. They’ll find out.” And what happens if-or when-you break up? Vindictive sexting of an ex’s naked pictures may very well be the new century’s best example of “revenge sex.”

One last point: Once a picture hits the Internet, it lives forever. When you apply to college, an admissions officer may come upon it while doing a little background research on you. Ditto when you’re applying for a job. If this happens, you could lose out big time. Just sayin’.

“When Google reveals too much about you”

Q: I know that just about everybody Googles a person before going out on a date with them the first time. My question isn’t about the etiquette of that. Instead, I’d like to know what to do about the fact that the first Google result for my name is a nude photo of me, showing my penis, that an ex uploaded a while ago. Do I explain this to a new date before we even go out? Wait for him to bring it up? Pretend like I don’t know it’s there?

A: Your question is an interesting twist on the “to Google or not to Google” dilemma. In most dating situations, a good rule of thumb is to avoid dragging out the skeletons during the first date; it just makes for a crowded evening. In your case, though, I’d suggest otherwise, because this photo is likely to be the white elephant of your date (of course, it may also be the raison d’être for your date, too!). Sometime during drinks or dinner, say this: “There’s something that I want to explain to you. You may have seen a nude photo of me on the Internet, which was posted by an ex of mine. Please don’t judge a book by its cover. It was a mistake.” Or, if you want to try some humor:  “It’s amazing what Photoshop can do!”

But while you’re at it, you can do a number of things to push that revealing photo further down on the search page and maybe even onto the second page. Create pages for yourself that will rank higher in the search criteria, thus rising over time to the top of the results. A good place to start is by creating profiles on major services like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. If you can buy the domain for your name (for instance, I own www.stevenpetrow.com), that will also eventually rank higher in search.

Be the armchair etiquette advisor and tell me which mom you think is right: “My oldest daughter is now 18 and is going to meet her sperm donor soon. My partner wants her to call him ‘bio dad,’ but I think that’s ridiculous. He’s never met her-how can we even think about him being a ‘dad?’” Send your two cents to ask@gaymanners.com.

*Steven Petrow is the author of the forthcoming book Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners. You can find him online at www.gaymanners.com.