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"Teenagers tend to think they're invincible: ' That won't happen to me,' ' No one will ever find me,' ' It's just a picture,' et cetera." Morgan, a sixteen-year-old in Rhode Island, says, "I think kids are aware they can get in trouble, but no one ever thinks they'll get caught."The pressure to sext—even when the social and legal consequences can be so catastrophic—can sometimes compel even the most reluctant of participants.
D., a psychologist in Los Angeles who has worked with many clients who have gotten into trouble for texting explicit photos and videos.
Boys feel the pressure too, she says: "I think guys ask for pictures with the expectation that the girl will say no, but they ask anyway because they feel like that's part of being a guy."While both genders create and send around risqué images—sexting often seems to include a promise of reciprocity, an "I'll send you mine if you send me yours" sort of thing—in almost all instances reported in the media, it's the girl's photo that goes viral, which can make the exchange far more dangerous for her.
"Guys are more open to showing their friends pictures of a girl, either because they think she's hot or because they want to make fun of her," Kat says.
In recent years more than 20 states—including California, New York, and New Jersey—have introduced laws aimed at teens caught sexting.
Sexually explicit images of under-eighteen-year-olds are considered child pornography; depending on the state's laws, district attorneys may prosecute anyone who's gotten hold of such a picture, from the subject and photographer to the distributors and recipients.
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"When teachers are hammering you with the scary, nitty-gritty details of sex—yet your friends are pressuring you to do it—engaging in an act reminiscent of sex is almost like a safe compromise," says 20-year-old Lauren,* who often exchanges suggestive pictures and texts with her long-distance boyfriend.