Yoliswa Sobuwa, Tremaine van Aardt and Lee-Anne Butler
This is a shortened version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday,February9, 2013.
PARENTS’ unwillingness to talk about sex with their children has helped spark a huge increase in Nelson Mandela Bay teenagers using cellphones to swap naked photographs of themselves and have sexually explicit conversations.
And experts say that girls are as bad – if not worse – than boys.
A two-week investigation by Weekend Post, in which pupils from schools across Nelson Mandela Bay and East London were quizzed on the international craze of "sexting”, has revealed teens as young as 13 are using their cellphones to "spice up” their relationships and "learn new tricks”.
While some said they took part in the practice because "it’s entertaining and passes the time”, others said the fad helped to break the ice in new relationships.
Experts said work-stressed parents were increasingly avoiding having "the talk” with their curious pre-teens, which was driving them to find out more about sex with their cellphones.
Also driving the sexting trend is the increased use of smartphones, as well as celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Khanyi Mbau and Paris Hilton having sex tapes and nude pictures of themselves in circulation.
The following was discovered among teens in interviews in Nelson Mandela Bay and East London:
A 15-year-old Alexander Road High pupil who said sexting was fun because "girls want a bad boy with a rep”, but that he preferred "having actual sex”.
A 16-year-old Muir College pupil who admitted he often stayed up to 3am on interactive sites like Mixit, texting with girls "about what we are going to do to each other”.
A 13-year-old Arcadia Senior Secondary girl who said teenagers were sexting because "normal” conversation had become boring. "All people ever ask is ‘how are you, how was your day.’ But with sexting the conversation is never the same. One day we will be talking about oral sex, next thing we move onto different positions. And the conversation hardly dies down; it’s just text after text because the topic is interesting.”
A 17-year-old Pearson High pupil who said her friends often showed her pictures they had received of naked boys. "It is really explicit, some of the [things] I have never heard of, and some of the pictures I wish I had never seen.”
An 18-year-old Woolhope Senior Secondary pupil who said boys in one class circulated "twenty-five to 30 naked pictures of girls from all around Port Elizabeth”.
A 15-year-old Muir College pupil who said both girls and boys were obsessed with sexting, so much so that "girls take a long time to reply if you text normally, but as soon as you start sexting, the replies are instantaneous”.
A 16-year-old Loyiso Senior Secondary pupil who said he usually downloaded nude pictures from Zonke Wap or Mixit. "I also like it if my girlfriend sends me her nude pics because I can go around showing off to my friends.”
An 18-year-old, also from Loyiso Senior Secondary, who said he enjoyed getting pictures of white people. "I just want to see what it is that they do and I enjoy watching their nude pics as well. When I get them I usually pass them to my friends.”
A 15-year-old East London pupil from Port Rex High School, who said her friend had sent a 16-year-old boy at the school a "full-frontal” picture of herself late last year and he had showed the whole school, and sent the picture to his friends – including boys at other schools. "She was very worried her mother would find out but thankfully she didn’t.”
South African online behaviour expert Ramon Thomas said free instant messaging systems such as BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and WhatsApp had made sexting free and accessible, and popular among teenagers, who enjoyed experimenting with various applications and checking their cellphones’ capabilities.
Thomas said teenagers enjoyed "pushing the envelope” and that girls were as much to blame as boys.
"For every boy sexting there is a girl sexting back, and vice versa. "They do not understand the consequences though, because sending (underage) pornographic material is a criminal offence.
"Things have really escalated since the introduction of reality shows ... celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton and Khanyi Mbau have sex tapes and nude pictures of themselves circulating and this is what has made them famous. Teenagers see this, especially young girls.”
Thomas said most parents were too scared to talk to their children about sex and rather hoped their children would learn about it at school instead.
"But the truth is that children are looking for answers to their questions and if they do not get them from you, they will try to get them from a friend. Sexting is just an extension of sexual experimentation and they are doing this because they are curious.
Nelson Mandela Bay clinical psychologist Gillian van der Riet said sexting was becoming more and more prevalent because society had become more "permissive”.
"Pornographic pictures . . . are so readily available . . . Parents need to teach children the harmfulness of getting caught up in sexting.”
– Additional reporting by Barbara Hollands