This lesson is currently one of our targets for updating!  Feel free to use this older version, or write to us for newer versions and the newest curriculum.

Consider these facts about sexting:

  • Nearly 1 out of 6 teens between the ages of 12 and 17 who own cell phones have shared naked or nearly nude pictures via text message from someone they know.
  • One in five teenagers say they have either sent or posted pictures of videos of themselves where they are nude or only partially clothed
  • Sexting is international.  Reports have appeared in the UK, Canada, Mexico, Spain, New Zealand, and Australia.  In Australia, almost 40% of a sample of 588 teenage girls had been asked to send a “naked or semi-naked” image of themselves over the internet.
  • The phenomenon of children/teens sending “inappropriate” pictures has something to do with what critics call a “porno-drenched society.”  Pornography is easily accessible even to children, especially on the internet.
  • Some of the motivation for teens to sext generally includes these four categories: (1) boys and girls ask for these pictures (and both boys and girls feel the pressure to send these to a person they like); (2) girls report that they sext specific boys they wish to know better, claiming they are “just flirting”;  (3) Some teens seek feedback about their looks (4) Some teens think sexting is a new model of “safe sex.”
  • Although teens believe sexting could negatively affect their future careers and that it would be embarrassing if their friends found out about it, critics think they have an “it wouldn’t happen to me” attitude with respect to the dangers of sexting.

Reading and Discussion:  Wake-Up Calls

  1. Case 1: In July 2008, an 18-year-old girl sent sext photographs to her boyfriend.  They broke up and her angry ex sought retribution by sending these sexts to his school classmates and friends.  This resulted in her suicide by hanging in her bedroom.  This is a dramatic example, but let’s talk about
    • Why would she hang herself?
    • Why is something that felt fun at first something that feels shameful or humiliating?
  2. Case 2: A 16-year-old faces seven years in jail for circulating an image of a girlfriend to friends
    • Does it matter if she said it was ok to pass around?
    • Does it count as child porn in your opinion?
    • Should there be a punishment?  If so, what should it be?
  3. Case 3: Two Reno teenagers thought they were sending nude photographs of themselves to a 15-year-old boy, but this “boy” turned out to be 45 years old.
    • Do you believe the teens?
    • Do you think the teens were foolish?
    • Does the age of the person they sent the picture to matter?

Now let’s think of all the “danger” stories you hear related to texting.  Why are they circulated?  In your opinion, are they exaggerated?  Think about that scene in Titanic where the main character sketches a picture of a naked girl who posed for him.  What of this boy then showed the sketch in an art show at the public library.  Would that be different?  How?

Are there some understandable reasons why people might want to share naked pictures of themselves with others?  What are some of these reasons?


List some of the dangers and some of the positive outcomes or reasons for sexting .




Activity:  Hypothetical Situations

Consider the following situations.  Discuss them in small groups or as a class.

  1. You have sent to your boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s cell phone a naked photo of yourself in which you feel you look “hot.”
    • Your feelings?  Why do you think you would do such a thing?
  2. Your boy/girlfriend shares it with a couple of friends without asking because he/she thinks you are hot!
    • Your feelings?  Why do you think you would do such a thing?
    • Are your feelings any different than they were when you first sent the picture to your boyfriend or girlfriend?
  3. You subsequently break up with this boy/girl and the photo is then passed around in school.
    • Would you feel ashamed? Why or why not?
    • If you had negative feelings about yourself or the situation, what would you do?  What might make you feel better?
    • Why would he or she pass the photos around?
    • How should it be stopped?  By whom?
  4. If your friend was the one in this situation, what would you say to him or her once the photo was passed around school?  Is there anything you think you could do as his or her friend to help the situation?

Reading and Discussion:  Privacy and Intimacy- Are They Related?

One view of privacy is that it is valuable and should be protected because intimacy depends on it (Fried, 1970).  According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“Fried, for example, defines privacy narrowly as control over information about oneself. He extends this definition, however, arguing that privacy has intrinsic value, and is necessarily related to and fundamental for one’s development as an individual with a moral and social personality able to form intimate relationships involving respect, love, friendship and trust. Privacy is valuable because it allows one control over information about oneself, which allows one to maintain varying degrees of intimacy. Indeed, love, friendship and trust are only possible if persons enjoy privacy and accord it to each other. Privacy is essential for such relationships on Fried’s view, and this helps explain why a threat to privacy is a threat to our very integrity as persons” (DeCew, 2008, Section 3.3, para. 1).

Reprinted with permission from Privacy. First published Tue May 14, 2002; substantive revision Mon Sep 18, 2000, DeCew, Judith “Privacy”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

Gerstein (1978) says that we need privacy in order to have intimacy, and he asserts that intimacy in relationships if part of what every human being wants.  He says that intimacy without intrusion or observation is required for us to have experiences with spontaneity and without shame (as cited in DeCew, 2008).

Rachels (1975) says that it’s not just that we want to control information about ourselves but that if we can control our privacy, then we have some control over our relationships with others (as cited in DeCew, 2008).  Anita Allen (1988) writes that in public and private, girls and women have more threats to their privacy than men.  Sexual harassment, naming victims in the news, and laws about reproductive freedom are all ways that privacy is different for women (DeCew, 2008).

Finally, “Moore (2003) claims that privacy, like education, health, and maintaining social relationships, is an essential part of human flourishing or well-being” (as cited in DeCew, 2008, Section 3.5, para. 3).

What do you think?

  • Is there more at stake for a girl than a boy when privacy is invaded?  Why?
  • Is there more at stake for someone who is not heterosexual?  Why?

Reading and Discussion:  Why Privacy is Important

Read the excerpt from the Rachels (1975) article, “Why Privacy is Important,” and discuss the questions that follow.

“Thomson suggests, ‘as a simplifying hypothesis, that the right to privacy is itself a cluster of rights, and that it is not a distinct cluster of rights but itself intersects with the cluster of rights which the right over the person consists of, and also with the cluster of rights which owning property consists of.’ This hypothesis is ‘simplifying’ because it eliminates the right to privacy as anything distinctive.

‘The right over the person’ consists of such ‘un-grand’ rights as the right not to have various parts of one’s body looked at, the right not to have one’s elbow painted green, and so on. Thomson understands these rights as analogous to property rights. The idea is that our bodies are ours and so we have the same rights with respect to them that we have with respect to our other possessions.

But now consider the right not to have various parts of one’s body looked at. Insofar as this is a matter of privacy, it is not simply analogous to property rights; for the kind of interest we have in controlling who looks at what parts of our bodies is very different from the interest we have in our cars or fountain pens. For most of us, physical intimacy is a part of very special sorts of personal relationships. Exposing one’s knee or one’s face to someone may not count for us as physical intimacy, but exposing a breast, and allowing it to be seen and touched, does. Of course the details are to some extent a matter of social convention; that is why it is easy for us to imagine, say, a Victorian woman for whom an exposed knee would be a sign of intimacy. She would be right to be distressed at learning that she had absent-mindedly left a knee uncovered and that someone was looking at it-if the observer was not her spouse or her lover. By dissociating the body from ideas of physical intimacy, and the complex of personal relationships of which such intimacies are a part, we can make this “right over the body” seem to be nothing more than an un-grand kind of property right; but that dissociation separates the matters that make privacy important.

Thomson asks whether it violates your right to privacy for acquaintances to indulge in ‘very personal gossip’ about you, when they got the information without violating your rights, and they are not violating any confidences in telling what they tell. (See part VIII, case (e), in Thomson’s paper.) She thinks they do not violate your right to privacy, but that if they do ‘there is trouble for the simplifying hypothesis.’

This is, as she says, a debatable case, but if my account of why privacy is important is correct, we have at least some reason to think that your right to privacy can be violated in such a case.  Let us fill in some details. Suppose you are recently divorced, and the reason your marriage failed is that you became impotent shortly after the wedding. You have shared your troubles with your closest friend, but this is not the sort of thing you want everyone to know. Not only would it be humiliating for everyone to know, it is none of their business. It is the sort of intimate fact about you that is not appropriate for strangers or casual acquaintances to know. But now the gossips have obtained the information (perhaps one of them innocently overheard your discussion with your friend; it was not his fault, so he did not violate your privacy in the hearing, but then you did not know he was within earshot) and now they are spreading it around to everyone who knows you and to some who do not. Are they violating your right to privacy? I think they are. If so, it is not surprising, for the interest involved in this case is just the sort of interest which the right to privacy typically protects. Since the right that is violated in this case is not also a property right, or a right over the person, the simplifying hypothesis fails. But this should not be surprising, either, for if the right to privacy has a different point than these other rights, we should not expect it always to overlap with them. And even if it did always overlap, we could still regard the right to privacy as a distinctive sort of right in virtue of the special kind of interest it protects (pp. 331-333).”


  1. This article was written in 1975, before people had cell phones (and therefore before sexting!).  Do you think that the limits of personal privacy have changed since this article was written?  What about since Victorian times?
  2. What do you think the author would say about sexting and privacy?
  3. Do you think that the rights you have over your body are different from the rights you have over other things you own?  How?  Why do you feel that way?
  4. Think about the example Rachels gives about spreading gossip as a form of violating privacy.  Do you agree with him?  What are the similarities between gossip and sexting?

Reading and Discussion:

Read the following article: Private Moment Made Public, Then a Fatal Jump

  1. Do you consider video-taping to be sexting?
  2. Do you think this would have been less damaging if it had been just a photograph that was posted on the internet?
  3. Do you think this situation or the outcome would have been any different if the boy had not been video-taped with a same-sex partner?  Why or why not?


Allen, A. (1988).  Uneasy access: Privacy for women in a free society.  Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield.

DeCew, J. (2008).  Privacy.  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), retrieved from

Fried, C. (1970). An anatomy of values.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Rachels, J. (1975).  Why privacy is important.  Philosophy and Public Affairs, 4(4), 331-333.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>