Santa Clara University


The Big Q

Back to Blog


Monday, Nov. 7, 2011

Best student comment on "Sexting" wins a $100 Amazon gift certificate.  Comments must be posted by midnight Nov. 20.

Mary and her boyfriend of two years, both freshmen in college, have decided to continue dating even though they go to different universities. Unfortunately, after a couple of months apart, they have found it difficult to maintain the intimacy and passion they once shared.

In an attempt to improve the situation, her boyfriend has suggested they send naked pictures to one another. At first, Mary is a little offended that her boyfriend would make such a request; however, the more she considers it, the more she thinks it might be a good idea.

She’s over 18. She’s been dating the boy for a while. Why shouldn’t she?

Here are some resources:

A Framework for Ethical Decision Making

Room for Debate: What's Wrong With Adult Sexting? (New York Times)


Photo by Mike Licht, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License.

Comments Comments

Pedro said on Nov 7, 2011
Sexting; to begin with the very term is a representation of the degradation of our society. We're slowly losing our true understanding of words and merely squishing them together and why? To save time. For the sake of speed, we are losing meaning in words and our connections to people. Sending erotic photos to each other is just as superficial as the coining of the word "sexting". It is not addressing the needs of passion and intimacy, it is merely the facade of romance. There is nothing of life in a picture. A picture by nature is still, lifeless, a moment in time. And a moment of time where you are modeling naked, most likely in a compromising position does not say "passion" or "closeness" it says desperation and emptiness. It is a lustful crude gesture. In order to continue flaming the fire, one needs to make the effort towards intimacy. One must visit, write, send packages, make phone-calls, chat online, and Skype. Beyond examining why Mary should not buy into her boyfriend's advice on an emotional level, logically it is a foolish choice. To submit anything to anyone without considering the repercussions of one's decision would be naive. A digital image once sent can not be unsent. One must be cautious and consider if the couple breaks up. The boyfriend has the power to forward Mary's picture to other friends or post them online. We exist in both a physical and digital world which is connected not by ships, planes, or trains, but by our global fingerprint: our online identity. Mary's online identity in the eyes of potential employers, schools, relatives, and friends can be tainted forever by a choice made in a moment. She has no control over the erotic pictures she gave away willingly, in love, seeking intimacy. Now her "intimate relationship" is a reminder that nothing could be less intimate than a shallow nude photograph digitally floating around the internet, not living, not dead, but a ghost of media haunting her dignity. - Like - 4 people like this.
Oliver said on Nov 10, 2011
Has any good ever come from sexting? I think not. In this situation Mary and her boyfriend are missing each other, and feel like they are losing that intimate connection. In order to alleviate this longing for each other, they are considering starting to sext. This is one option, but I think it would be a very naive and immature thing to do. For hundreds of years, significant others have been missing each other and longing to be with each other. For example during times of war, husbands and boyfriends that are fighting abroad miss their loved ones back in their home country. Instead of being impatient and going with a quick fix (sending explicit pictures) they write letters and talk on the phone, strengthening their intellectual connection rather than just connecting on a physical level. Then when the two do reunite their is that extra special moment when they see each other, and then can reignite that physical connection. As the old adage says, "Patience is a Virtue". The other major implication of sexting that the image is out there. Living in the age that we do, everything is going digital. We can create presentation, and send it half way around the world in the blink of an eye. The world has become a much more interconnected place than it was even 10 years ago. If Mary takes a nude picture of herself and send it out, she is losing her control over it; it essentially becomes property of the internet. If she breaks up with her boyfriend, and he is vengeful he could very easily put the picture up online. At this point the whole world can have access to it with only a few clicks. Mary has a reputation that she needs to take care of. Her parents are sending her to college to get a good education, and so that she can put her best foot forward going into the world. It would really be a shame to throw away this reputation she has worked so hard to build up by a silly little picture. The job market is a very competitive world, with companies doing extensive background checks now. Having a nude picture out there, could damage her chances of getting the job and life that she wants. I feel that presented with this situation, Mary should pause and think about the bigger implications of sexting a nude picture of herself. If she uses a bit of foresight, I am sure she will understand what the results of her act could be. - Like
Riley said on Nov 10, 2011
Although there are details to Marys experience that would potentially sway her decision in the direction of sexting her boyfriend, such as the longevity of their relationship and her ability to make decisions, legally, for herself, there are numerous cons that she may not think of on her own. Author Margaret Farley writes about what, she feels, should be the seven norms for just sexual practice. These seven include doing no unjust harm, commitment, consent, mutuality, equality, fruitfulness, and social justice. In Marys case, only one out of those seven (commitment) are completely fulfilled. Although her boyfriend prompted Mary to send as well as receive sexting messages, her wavering, with her initially being offended and then, upon consideration, feeling as though it might be a good idea, sparks the idea that she is not completely comfortable with the situation. If the intimacy and passion in Marys relationship is dwindling after only a few short months apart, how can she be sure that their relationship could last beyond their college careers? In life, there are times that spouses may be separated for a prolonged length of time (e.g. military service) and, if that relationship has a firm foundation, it should be able to withstand those times. If Mary is hoping this relationship is, in fact, going to last, she should expect her boyfriend to remain faithful, intimate and passionate even with a few months separation. If this relationship were to disintegrate during their time at college and Mary did decide to sext her boyfriend, those pictures are now in his possession forever. He can decide to do what he wants with them and Mary will have little to no say in the situation. She may feel safe in the situation now, but who is to say what will happen in the future. Those pictures can appear later in life and jeopardize opportunities in Marys future that she cannot even fathom at the moment. There are many sayings equating pictures and permanence, such as, A picture is worth a thousand words, take a picture, it will last longer, and many more. Those sayings do not come about by merely coincidence. Although Mary feels a strong bond with her now-boyfriend, she may be risking much more than a simple sext; she may be endangering her future. - Like
Noe said on Nov 10, 2011
The question posed here is 'Why shouldn't she'? Well, I still don't think the first question of 'Why should she' has actually been answered yet. It seems like the closest thing in answering this is because her boyfriend thinks she should. This should not be the deciding factor. Her initial reaction to her boyfriend's request, being offended, should play more of a factor in her decision. What good is a naked photo going to do for either of them? If anything would that not make them yearn for each other even more? Even more importantly technology such as cell phones, the internet, email, etc. are such powerful and popular tools used not only to communicate more efficiently, but to communicate at a mass level. It is so easy to share anything and everything with anyone and everyone. There is no prior approval on what is sent or what is received. Too many times images and texts that are meant to be kept between two people are easily distributed to a mass amount of people. After sending this photo Mary would no longer have control over where the photo might end up and who it might be seen by. To me there is just too much risk and not enough benefit here. - Like
Alex said on Nov 10, 2011
Although the consequences of 18 year old Mary may be much less than that of U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner, the true results are ultimately the same. Unjust harm, regret, loss of friends, family, and even a job; these are just a few of the consequences that can come out of a simple yet 1000 word filled "sext". When asked why Mary shouldn't send the text we need to not only look at the now, but also the future. That sext would satisfy her boyfriend's "needs", for now, but what about in 2 weeks or in 2 years? With today's technology and smartphones especially, it is very easy to hold onto a picture or send that picture to points A through Z and beyond. She would be putting herself in a situation that could/unfortunately probably would come back to haunt in one way or another. Whether that way be psychological or even physical. When she considered the situation to be good I could only think about good for who? Herself? Or her boyfriend? She needs to live out her life for herself first. Relationships come and go, but we stay ourselves forever. Sending that picture to her boyfriend would only tarnish her image as an individual young woman to the always abiding girlfriend. We must abide to our own norms and values before making a rational decision to do or not do something in our life. The bottom-line is that it doesn't matter if you're an 18 year old college girl like Mary or a 47 year old Congressman like Anthony Weiner, sending out pictures of yourself to others may satisfy a temporary need or want from another person, but your image as your own person with your own individual way of going about your life is tarnished forever. - Like
Patrick said on Nov 10, 2011
I don't see any direct reason that she shouldn't send a nude picture of herself. With that being said there are a few things that she should think about before she decides to do so. If she is looking to maintain the intimacy and passion they once shared, I'd have so say there are better ways of doing so. I believe anything from having regular phone calls to visiting each other would most likely maintain the intimacy and passion better than just sexting, but it doesn't mean it wont help. She should also think about the fact that once she sends the picture she has no control of where it shows up, it is lost to the internet. If they want to share nude pictures I believe the best way to do so would probably be video chatting. That way they can share the moment together emotionally and aren't just getting unemotional pictures. It also has the added benefit that there isn't a picture lost to the internet. - Like - 2 people like this.
Telisha Anderson said on Nov 10, 2011
Mary has been with her boyfriend for two years, so she may not see anything wrong with sending naked to her boyfriend. However, you can never predict the future and if what will happen. What if Mary and her boyfriend broke, and he he is upset and decides to spread her pictures to others? What do you do then? What if the pictures were accidental sent out to someone? You cannot trust technology because anything can go wrong with a push of a button. Besides what is sending naked pictures of each other going help? They are so many other things they could do. Technology has improved so much that you can talk to someone across the world, and video chat with them. Mary should also realize that more judgement will be put on her if somehow it does leak out. Most guys do not mind putting there business out in the public like that. Society is much more harsher on girls than they are on guys. I do not see any good coming out of her sending naked pictures of herself. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Kacie said on Nov 10, 2011
In this situation, I would suggest that Mary stick with her initial instinct. Isn't that the one we are taught to follow anyways? I think a major issue with the idea is that sexting is not really a solution to the problem at hand. If they want to step up their intimacy and passion, sexting just won't do it. Intimacy requires that both partners are involved, sharing something together. Although they may agree that they will both send pictures, how intimate can it really be when  as often happens in texting conversations  Mary sends a picture of herself and her boyfriend opens it during class a couple hours later? Where is the shared experience in that situation? Lisa Fullam describes the difference between desire and lust. Desire, a healthy approach, takes another person's body AND spirit into account. In contrast, lust only recognizes a want for the body. In this situation, Mary and her boyfriend would simply succumb to their lust for one another, paying no respect to each other's identity as body and spirit. Finally, the mutuality and consent of this arrangement is clearly lacking. Because Mary was so offended at first  denying her consent  it is highly probably that if she chooses to do it, it will be for the sake of maintaining her relationship, not for pleasure. Although her boyfriend may derive some pleasure out of it, the absence of hers makes the action unfavorable. - Like
Matt said on Nov 10, 2011
Personally I don't think that sexting is the answer to fix all of there intimacy issues. While it may be a band aid and be nice for a little, it will not fully fix this issue. However, she has been seeing her boyfriend for a while. I am assuming there is a lot of trust built into this relationship with them going to other universities but staying together. She should be able to trust that he will not share these photos with anyone else but she still needs to worry. What happens if there is a rough break up? What is to say he won't share the photos then. I think if they are having intimacy issues, then they should talk it out and figure out a true way to fix this as opposed to using sexting as a band aid. - Like
Carey Parker said on Nov 10, 2011
Sexting should not be the answer to restore intimacy and passion in a relationship. Sexting is an extremely dangerous act to be involved with due to the amount of risks and consequences for the potential victim. Mary shouldn't send the pictures to her boyfriend if she doesn't want these pictures to be seen by someone else than her boyfriend. Whether is is accidental or purposeful it is pretty likely that other eyes will see the pictures at some point. Especially if Mary feels any pressure to send these explicit photos she should refrain. Sexting includes many different behaviors and many different emotions- it is wrong and should not be experimented with especially for the sake of our youth. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Jen said on Nov 10, 2011
People make mistakes all the time. Many snap actions are done out of anger or peer pressure. They go to different schools, there is no way to make sure that he even deletes the photos. What is to stop him from putting them on the internet if they break up? What is stopping his friends from sending them out if they go through his phone? In a college environment alcohol is such a present factor that there is no way to garentee that his phone will only be in his possession every day and night. The biggest thing for Mary to consider is: is she going to marry this man? If not they are inevitably going to break up and when they do who is to say that it is a totally clean break up? Out of anger he could send it to a buddy or post it online. Once it starts getting passed around there is not stopping it. There is no garentee that all of his friends are total jerks either. All it takes is one guy to go through his phone and send it to himself and that photo is no longer just Mary's boyfriends. Depending on what kind of guy his friend is, the entire team, school or web could have the photo in their possession within seconds. Also, she is over 18. There is no way that the people passing around the photo would get charged for anything. It is too risky and not worth it in my eyes. No one can be trusted THAT much - Like - 1 person likes this.
Amber said on Nov 10, 2011
I understand that Mary may feel that sexting is a good idea to keep her relationship going. But there are a few things she should consider. First is that even if she and her boyfriend have been dating for 2 years that was high school. College is different. People grow up and change a lot in college and if after only 2 months apart from each other they are already having problems, the relationship is probably not going to work in the long run. Most relationships don't last from high school to college. She should keep this in mind and try to recognize that her future may not be with this guy. Next she should consider that once she sends a naked picture of herself he has it forever. So if their relationship were to end badly he could send it around or post it online. It could come back to haunt her and give her a bad reputation. If she really feels that she wants to sext him she should avoid putting her face in the photo. That way if anyone does see it it isn't obvious it is her. I would suggest that they try other options, or realize that the relationship isn't going to work. - Like
Andy said on Nov 10, 2011
For Mary, or anyone else considering sexting someone, I feel there are three questions that need to be answered; How well do I really know this person? In the case of a break-up would this person possibly be capable of stooping that low? Do I truly trust this person? I feel in a situation with mature, rational-thinking adults that trust each other, sexting could be a valuable took to add a little intimacy on the side of a personal interaction. Sexting should not ever be considered a replacement to human contact and traditional communication such as letters and phone calls. In todays technological world I have heard of many cases of long distance couples maintaining intimacy through video chats which provide both a live visual feed and vocal communication which is definitely more personal and interactive than an explicit picture. Obviously not every situation can be given the same advice. In situations of people only knowing each other for a limited time in addition to any relationship, there really isnt any background information or experiences that you can judge a persons character on. There is only the relatively short time you have known the person and often people can put up fronts to imprint a certain image of themselves that they want others to see. So there is no guarantee that the person is of good character. At this point your making a bet. The possible out comes each have their own probability and the only thing a person can do is make an educated guess. It could end up adding some much needed intimacy and the two could possibly stay together in which it is very unlikely that any images would be exposed to the public. They could end up breaking-up, but both people are mature and delete, or at least keep secret, the explicit images. Or in the worst case one or both of the people are immature and irrational and decide to expose the explicit image to the public. Its all a game of analyzing the possible outcomes and making and educated bet that the ideal outcome will occur. Its the same bet we make every time we make a decision in our life to do something without any control over the out come. Life, death, friendships, and relationships, everything is a gamble.. - Like
Anthony said on Nov 11, 2011
It's her body it's her choice! Even though i realize that most people myself included have been taught or seen that sending nude pictures is a bad idea in the long run, It is ultimately her choice and an experience that she may need to learn from. That being said intimately and passionately it will do nothing for the relationship, it's a digital photograph and the fact that she needs to warm up to the idea over time only supports the stupidity of the act. We see the complications of sexting today with all of the leaked celebrity cell phone pictures stirring around the internet. Nowadays anything about yourself put into the digital world is a relinquishment of your privacy. - Like
Lindsay said on Nov 11, 2011
Mary shouldn't feel guilty or hesitant about wanting to express her sexual individuality, however she sees fit. She should encourage opportunities for self-discovery and asserting her sexual strength, especially while with a partner she trusts. That does not however, mean she should adopt sexting as a quick-fix to the situation. In Mary's situation, sexting is like a band-aid. It might seem like a solution to the problem, but really it is just covering up the issue. The fact that Mary was at first offended by her boyfriend's request to send him naked pictures proves it is not an act she is perfectly comfortable engaging in. If it wasn't something she thought of independently and needed to be coerced into doing, it shouldn't be a part of her sexual repertoire. A lasting relationship that is truly worthwhile shouldn't require quick-fixes to keep the passion alive. She and her boyfriend should be able to openly talk about the heart of the matter instead of trying to patch things up with solutions that really aren't addressing the problem itself. Beyond all of this, the sheer risk involved in sexting is very great. No matter what, the images and explicit wording can be stored forever digitally, and the opportunities for use and abuse are endless. The risk to her personal character that could possibly result if things end badly is something that she needs to factor into the equation. There are a number of reasons why Mary "shouldn't" sext her boyfriend, but more importantly she should be contemplating what reasons she has TO do it. I think upon further reflection she will find that that list comes up a bit short. at first offended, lasting relationship shouldnt require risk is very great - Like
Brock Simon said on Nov 11, 2011
The best thing that could happen from sexting is a temporary peeping tom pleasure. That best case scenario only happens if the content remains between the two sexting partners, which I would venture to guess is rarely the case. With the rather unstable feelings of young adults it is a huge leap of faith to give the rights to the image of ones body to another. The worst case scenario is rather bleak, that photo that you sent to a now disgruntled ex is making its way around campus and now you cringe every time somebody looks your way. If the desire is really that strong to share your body with somebody, go old-fashion and do it in person. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Paul said on Nov 11, 2011
Mary needs to realize that sending a nude photo of herself has big consequences. She may be in love but things can change in a heartbeat. If they have a falling out then that picture is now leverage in a breakup and can be used to humiliate her and dehumanize her. My advice was if she truly wanted to feel intimacy and passion with her boyfriend then she should talk to him and they can use a different outlet to express their feelings. Sending a naked picture has dire consequences because it is only an 'accidental' click away from being sent and forwarded to any person in her boyfriends contact list. They can skype with eachother while alone in their rooms or call each other and have 'phone sex'. But naked pictures has too many potential consequences that far outweight the temporary satisfaction she may be giving her boyfriend. - Like
CMillar said on Nov 13, 2011
Sending naked pictures will only alleviate their intimacy problem for the amount of time that it takes for either person to glance at their screen. Physical intimacy cannot be achieved through the cell phone. The photo might as well be a photo of anyone- it does not achieve the sensuality of one's touch, it lacks an emotional element or being present with one another, and does not share love or a possible outlet of sexual energy. It is a lustful image, that's it. Taking this stance, sending the photograph will not achieve Mary or her boyfriend's goal. It will, however, place both parties at risk for a mass-sext. Mary may says he trusts her boyfriend, but whether they have a bad breakup or even if a friend just steals the photograph, it is always a possibility in the digital world. Because Mary is already uncomfortable with the idea, she should not go against her intuition, and she should find a new boyfriend if she continues to lack the passion and intimacy she expects out of a relationship. - Like
Michael said on Nov 14, 2011
Sexting is an interesting product of the 21st century. The idea of sending naked pictures as a means to sexually express one's self to another is exciting. Unfortunately the what the other person does with those pictures is out of the senders control. The morality of sexting follows much of the same line as that of real sex - it should be saved for a committed relationship of some sort. The level of trust that one must have to trust that their partner is not going to send the pictures around needs to be high. That can only come for a committed relationship. I find no problem with the actual act, it can even spice up a relationship that needs a sexual spark. The paper trail is what makes this messy as those who receive pics need to treat them with respect. Overall I don't mind the idea of sexting, one just needs to think deeply about who is receiving their pictures. - Like
Jose Dorador said on Nov 16, 2011
One key question to ask is what will sexting fulfill? What is missing in the relationship? Lets say that Mary and the boy feel emotionally and intellectually close despite the distance. The only thing in their relationship suffering is the physical connection. So the boy proposes sexting as a solution. But how plausible of a solution is it really? For one, how will sending nude pictures to each other will reignite the romantic sexual connection? In a way sharing pictures of each other can be thought of like it the couple were kissing each other for the first time, or having sex for the first time. Sending pictures could be a way the couple shows that they want to be intimate with each other. So in a way sexting can fulfill the need for being intimate. But it can also be dangerous because like in any relationship the trust can be violated and pictures can end up in unwanted places. Another thing to take into consideration, is the question of how repetitive will sexting be. In the real world, as oppose to the virtual world, people hook up constantly. In the virtual world there is really no standard. So how often will Mary and her boy sext? Will it be once a quarter? Once a week? Once a day? To me if the sexting has to happen once a day or once a week, Mary should ask herself what the boy wants and whether or not that is too much. Like a real world relationship hooking up too much could be a sign that the boy is more invested in the hooking up than anything else. Sexting once a quarter too seems odd. Wouldnt it be better to visit each other once a quarter or go home on breaks to be together? Also, is sexting nude pictures the only way to solve the issue? I would think Mary could send pictures that are not explicit. Maybe she can send seductive pictures or sexy pictures, but not nude ones. Mary and the boy can also sext with words. Words can be seductive and sexually arousing too. I think Mary should consider those option before sending a nude picture to her boyfriend. - Like
Sandy said on Nov 18, 2011
Mary should not stop herself from sexting based on some moral code or strong influence from her boyfriend, but she should make her own decision with full responsibility. It is not a matter of sexting or not sexting, but a matter of doing the right thing by taking ownership of your choice. If Mary decides to go through with it and send a picture, then she needs to realize that she is 100% responsible for the decision and any unfortunate outcome. For instance, she and her boyfriend could break up, and it would be likely that his emotions take over and to get back at her he could decide to have her naked photo go viral. Or, lets say that Marys boyfriend would never do such a thing (regardless of the status of his and Marys relationship) he could accidently lose his phone where another individual would be able to have access to the information saved on his phone. There are an endless number of scenarios that could happen. It would only be fair to provide an example of a positive and fortunate outcome. Lets say that Mary does send a naked photo of herself to her boyfriend. He is satisfied with her text, doesnt show it to anyone else, and gets pleasure out of it. But what comes next? Im not sure if it makes sense to fulfill the boundless entities of passion and intimacy with a finite and objective image. However, it seems as though the typical relationship between two people in society function in terms of satisfying desires. (Ex. It is very easy for us to imagine the average spouse loving the other for providing a home, family, wealth, and a lifetime of security rather than imagining a spouse loving the other for no apparent reason without any expectations of fulfillment.) This sexting scenario seems as though there are finite expectations to satisfy what they call passion and intimacy. Whether or not Marys choice is worth it, the decision is ultimately up to her. With that said, the one ethical act that Mary should do is take responsibility for her own decision. Mary must understand that she is completely responsible for her choice. If her photo goes viral, she cannot blame the unfortunate events on her boyfriend. If her photo satisfies her boyfriend, he keeps it private, and they move on with their lives, she must not view her choice as one fully influenced by her boyfriend. She must understand the power of her responsibility and own up to her choices whether they are good or bad. With the simple acknowledgment of full responsibility, Mary will be making a decision that was imposed by no one other than herself and this notion of full responsibility may influence her to make the best decision for her and her boyfriend. - Like - 4 people like this.
Rick said on Nov 21, 2011
Despite what many may think, this is in fact a choice that two people are considering in the hopes to keep the "fire" going for each other. One of the main problems with long distance relationships, even if they are only a few cities apart is the lack of availability of one another. Also being in an environment, which is populated with plenty of sexual partners that on any given night would be just as willing as the next does not help matters. This is an attempt for Mary and her boyfriend to sedate temporarily, their sexual desires for one another and hopefully keep them faithful. One of the major hurdles is the morality of it, it is typical that if there is a falling out between the two of them, it is most likely that the erotic pictures of either partner will somehow end up on the internet, shown or passed around. This dilemma is something that they both will have to come to terms with and should only commit if there is a solid foundation of trust and respect that exists between them. - Like
Miriam Schulman said on Nov 22, 2011
To all who commented on The Big Q's sexting case, the discussion was really excellent. In the end, we gave the prize to Pedro for his lyrical and thought-provoking response. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Erinn said on Feb 12, 2014
In the case of sexting, I personally don't think that I will ever be a part of that trend. In this case, however, it seems as if they have both been dating for quite awhile and they both trust each other. If they are both over 18, and neither of them publish the pictures or send them to other people, then they aren't doing anything illegal or anything morally wrong, in my opinion. They have a long distance relationship and keeping intimacy when not being around each other is hard, so in this case, I do not believe that it is morally wrong to be sexting. - Like
Post a Comment

Tags: sexting