'Sexting' just a modern version of spin-the-bottle

    To label it 'child pornography' defies common sense, says professor

    OTTAWA, May 26 /CNW Telbec/ - It's called 'sexting' and it's about
children and young people using cellphones and other high-tech communications
devices to exchange sexually suggestive messages or nude photos of themselves.
    But Peter Cumming, an associate professor at York University and
coordinator of the Children's Studies Program there, says that however
shocking it may seem, we may be over-reacting if we start treating it like
child pornography.
    Sexting, he says, is just a 21st-century version of the sexual
exploration children and young people have always done - no worse than playing
doctor or spin-the-bottle.
    "Technology does change things, and there can be very serious
consequences" says Dr. Cumming, who will discuss children's rights, children's
voices, children's technology and children's sexuality at the Congress of the
Humanities and Social Sciences, being held this week at Ottawa's Carleton
    "But that obscures the fact that children and young people are sexual
beings who have explored their sexuality in all times, and all cultures and
all places."
    Sexting - a combination of the words 'sex' and 'texting' - has been in
the news in recent months. In at least one case, several U.S. high school
students were facing child pornography charges for sharing nude or semi-nude
photos with classmates over their cellphones.
    Dr. Cumming says that to consider labelling a teen a sex offender because
of a sexting incident - a label that will stick for life - defies common
sense. "It would be very unlikely to see dozens of news stories announcing
that some children we caught playing spin-the-bottle, or doctor, or strip
poker," he says.
    "Yet many of the cases brought forward have been on the same level of
innocence and experience as those activities. "In other words, kids are
playing spin-the-bottle online."
    Dr. Cumming says it could even be argued that online activity - because
it doesn't present an opportunity for immediate physical contact - is safer
than traditional sexual games and less likely to lead to pregnancy or sexually
transmitted diseases.
    "I think a distinction has to be made between nudity and child porn," he
adds. "And it's an ethical question to ask whether children can create child
pornography. Left to their own devices, aren't children likely to make some
bad decisions - particularly since online material can often escape the
control of its creator? Sure, says Dr. Cumming.
    But adults make bad decisions, too.
    The uproar about sexting, he says, is just the modern version of the
outrage in the 1950s about the way Elvis Presley moved on stage.
    "The big bad wolf right now is the Internet and cellphones with cameras,"
he says. So instead of getting upset about sexting, "what I would say to
anyone is to take a deep breath, think in context, and use common sense."

    Organized by the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social
Sciences, Congress 2009 brings together over 8,000 researchers from Canada and
around the world.

For further information:

For further information: Congress media team, (613) 520-3552; Caitlin
Kealey, Manager of Communications, Canadian Federation for the Humanities and
Social Sciences, ckealey@fedcan.ca; Lin Moody, Media Relations Officer,
Carleton University, Lin_moody@carleton.ca

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