Thinking about sending a naughty picture to your honey's phone, just to have a little fun, maybe to get psyched for a special evening the two of you have planned? Before you hit send, you may want to think twice.
These days, it seems there is new technology out nearly every week. It literally changes the way we live.
Think back to a decade or two ago. Maybe at the time, you were a college student, had just gotten married or were getting your start at a new job. Back then, texting was just barely on the horizon. Now it seems we can't live without it. As we've gotten more used to texting, some of its dangers have surfaced, especially in the last couple of years.
While sexting may seem innocent enough at the time -- maybe you're using it to flirt, prove your commitment to someone or just have fun -- what about those who use sexts to hurt, harass or humiliate? When sext messages get into the wrong hands, the results can be disastrous. Here's a closer look.
What it Is: More than Just a Clever Play on Words
The term "sexting" is a clever play on the words "sex" and "text messaging." It's basically when someone sends a provocative photo, which may include complete or partial nudity. The most popular way to send sexts are via text message, but messages also may be emailed and eventually saved on computers.
What may start out as a personal sext to one individual can eventually end up on other people's phones, emails and worse yet - Web sites. Unfortunately, once an image appears on a Web site, it's not necessarily easy or even possible to get it off.
The worst part is, once you've sent a text message with a sexually explicit photo, you have no control over it, but the recipient does. It's not like a sext comes with a confidentiality agreement.
So who are the groups most likely to engage in sexting? Teenagers and young people ranging from age 13 to 26.
Professional Dangers of Sexting
Because the majority of "sexters" are young people, they have perhaps the longest amount of time for those images to haunt them. Sexting increases your visibility in the virtual world, and because it is so easy to access information on the Internet, there's a good chance a lapse in judgment could become a longtime or permanent obstacle.
Whether you're a young professional going out for that new job or have kids who want to get into their dream college or make the cut for that exclusive athletic organization, nothing can call his or her character into question like sexting. Because your photo can pop up anywhere, anytime, when you least expect it, there is a chance future and current employers can view it.
Perhaps no one understands that better than U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, who, after being caught for sending lewd photographs of himself to women online resigned in June 2011 amid a torrent of media coverage.
Emotional Dangers of Sexting
Say you send a sexy message (accompanied by a photo, of course) to someone you've been in a committed relationship with, thinking it will never get out. He may not intend to send it to anyone, but what if his phone is lost or stolen?
Maybe he has a not-so-reputable old friend from high school who happens upon it while your man is in another room. What if you have a bitter breakup?
Photos you thought no one else would see could end up on other peoples' phones and potentially racy Web sites. It's embarrassing and humiliating, for one. A momentary lapse in judgment can taint years of a reputation you've worked to build.
The emotional dangers of sexting are even more pronounced with teens, who may have fragile self-esteem to begin with and may contemplate suicide. Unfortunately, teen girls have killed themselves in the wake of texting scandals on more than one occasion.
Legal Dangers of Sexting
Sexting also can have legal ramifications for adults and teens alike. In the case of infidelity, it can break up a marriage and, in especially contentious divorces, phone records dating as far back as a month can be pulled up, even when text messages have been deleted.
For moms out there, the biggest legal issues right now involve adults soliciting and sexting teens, which in many cases, is considered criminal behavior.
Legislation has cropped up in more than 20 states that can actually result in child pornography charges for teens who send text messages, and sometimes, their recipients. That's because any nude or semi-nude photos of minors under the age of 18 constitute child pornography. It's a serious punishment for 13-and14-year olds that engage in sexting. Just how do parents protect their kids from this behavior and its consequences?
Legal ramifications of sexting are changing all the time and are murky, to say the least, when the age group meant to be protected by the laws is being punished by them, as well.
Think Before You Sext
In the best of cases, a sext is kept within the confines of a committed relationship. While the rationale behind sexting may be innocent enough, say if you both want to have a little fun and spice things up a bit, the consequences can often do more harm than good.
After all, if your phone or your honey's got into the wrong hands, you have to ask yourself: Would you want this photo to end up on the Internet where your boss, parents, cousins and siblings could see?
Maybe you've already snapped the shot and are about to hit that send key. Before you do, you may want to consider some alternatives to the ever-notorious sext. Could you leave a sexy note on the counter or the car for his eyes only?
Another option is purchasing a camera with a docking station. Even if it feels outdated in this digital age, connecting your camera directly with a printer allows a distinct advantage -- it isn't saved and it can't be traced. Plus, it can be kept within the privacy of your own home -- now there's an idea!