Editorial: The Child Pornographers

Who's the perp and who's the victim?

There is a growing segment of society that is creating pornography involving children. Children in underwear. Children partially or completely nude. Children having sex with other children.

That growing segment of society is ... children.

The first reports of "sexting" have been making the news pretty consistently recently, and while adult companies have been providing cellphone downloads of adult content for at least five years, the concept has only now captured the mainstream public's imagination because a growing number of those doing the sexting are minors. Kids in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah have all been busted for it. And there's even been one suicide reportedly traced to "sexting remorse."

MySpace, Facebook and other personal contact sites have found that an increasing number of minor teens - 54% , by one study - have been discussing sex, drugs and posting sexually explicit images to their pages. Sexting, because it's a bit newer - the first news reports of it surfaced in 2005, though a pair of underage teens were busted in '04 in Florida for emailing photos of each other having sex - hasn't attracted quite as many followers; just 20% of 13- to 19-year-olds , according to a survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, which sadly includes legal sexters with the underage ones.

Of course, there are no shortage of opinions on the subject.

"Prosecutors don't know what to do , so they are reaching out in the way that prosecutors do," said Parry Aftab, founder and director of WiredSafety, which educates kids about the Internet

"You take teenagers, alcohol and cell phone cameras and put them in a room together and you've got a prescription for disaster," agreed former federal prosecutor Mark Rasch. "But you shouldn't be making felons out of it."

Why not (and who needs alcohol)? Considering that if an adult were to take the exact same pictures that have been implicated in the "sexting" episodes that have caught various prosecutors' attention, that adult would spend a minimum of five years in the federal slammer, why should it be different just because a kid is the one taking the picture?

Conservative writer (and anti-porn activist) Maggie Gallagher posed what may be the most important question on this subject in a recent column - and in the process, admitted something that conservatives spend their entire careers trying to deny: "Right now we have a decision to make: Is underage porn (these aren't really children) a crime or not? If so, how do we treat girls and boys who engage in it 'for fun' and not for profit?"

First, the admission: "these aren't really children." Aren't they? The law says they are. Various religions have long claimed that kids are too "innocent" to think of doing such things. As for the "crime": When it comes to "adult porn," using a performer who is 17 years, 11 months, 30 days, 23 hours and 59 minutes old gets you busted, but if the producer waits one more minute to shoot her, she's perfectly legal. That's clearly insane.

If there's one thing that this "sexting" brouhaha ought to teach us, it's that "18" is even less of a magic number now than it's ever been. Kids don't suddenly become sexual at the stroke of midnight on their eighteenth birthday. They become sexual when their bodies start producing estradiol (in girls) and testosterone (in boys), and when something called the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) starts pulsing from the hypothalamus area of their brains. For girls, that can be as young as 9; boys take a year or so longer. The kids may be unclear what to do when that happens (gosh, thanks, abstinence-only education!) but they'll figure it out soon enough. That's why sex is an instinct, not a learned behavior. Nobody had to teach the first humanoids how to mate; they figured it out quite easily for themselves, and even though modern humans' instincts have atrophied, they still procreate well enough to (over)run the whole fucking planet.

It's this instinct that the Deeply Religious deny, even as they themselves produce families with ten or 15 kids. They know that sex is so pleasurable that unless they invent a God to decree that sex can take place only between certain people of a certain age (and gender) under certain conditions, it would be (is!) humanity's favorite pastime ... and then who'd milk the cows and build the widgets?

Educated, savvy adults should (dare we say "must"?) guide kids in their sexual explorations, but short of major medical procedures, nobody can stop kids from feeling sexual urges - and kids being fairly inventive, they will figure out myriad ways to express their sexuality, sexting being only one of them.

We're quickly being left with just two choices: Understand that nudity is natural and that sex is a legitimate form of human expression which cannot be suppressed, and figure out ways to keep kids (relatively) safe from their actual adult predators while leaving them free to express their sexuality among themselves ... or start throwing 12-year-olds in prison for violating an obsolete form of artificial morality that never worked well anyway.

Do we really need to "destroy this village in order to save it "?


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