In December 2020, the New York Times released an opinion column written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof. Titled “The Children of Pornhub,” the piece gives visibility to one of the world’s largest internet porn provider’s questionable business practices and nonconsensual content reportedly posted on the platform.
According to Kristof, Pornhub is infested with child sexual abuse material (CSAM), visual depictions of sexually explicit conduct involving someone under 18 years of age. At the time of the piece’s release, a search for “girls under18” or “14yo” lead to more than 100,000 videos. While not all results included CSAM, “too many” did.
Now, some of these videos were uploaded by traffickers and abusers, but others were not.
Take the story of Serena Fleites. When she was 14, a boy she had a crush on asked her to make some naked videos and send them to him. She did, and the sexts changed the entire course of her life. “That’s when I started getting strange looks in school,” Fleites remembered.
He had shared the videos with other boys, and someone posted them on Pornhub. One of her videos ended up with 400,000+ views on it. Despite Pornhub eventually taking them down after many requests, they always ended up on the site again, having been reuploaded by someone who had downloaded them previously.
After dropping out of school, multiple suicide attempts, and bouts with meth and opioid use, Fleites has found some stability living in her car along with three dogs. But her whole life changed “because of one little mistake.”
Fleites’ story may sound like a worst-case scenario, but with the rise of teens sharing nudes it could likely become the norm.
What does the research say?
Research conducted in 2020 by Thorn, a nonprofit that works to prevent child exploitation, shows that teens and tweens are sending and sharing more nudes than ever.
As if that trend wasn’t worrisome enough, the survey, which was given to a diverse group of over 2,000 minors aged 9 to 17 across the United States, also found that nude images of younger minors are often shared with adults.
These findings, and other clear findings in the research, show that sexting is being normalized among peers, that coercion is playing a critical role in minors taking explicit images of themselves, and that attitudes of blame and shame compound harm to young people.
Thorn also found that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 10 boys ages 13 to 17 have shared their own nudes, and a 2018 meta-analysis on sexting showed that 27% of 12-17 year-olds receive sexts, and nearly 15% send them.
As Thorn CEO Julie Cordua puts it, ”Puberty and technology are on a collision course, and kids now face situations online that their parents never experienced, at a younger age than most people would think.”
Sending nudes could fall under “child pornography” laws
According to US federal law, anyone who is found producing, possessing, or distributing child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) can be charged.
In other words, taking a nude picture of one’s self or another person when under the age of 18 could be considered “producing” CSEM. If that picture is kept on that person’s phone, computer, or cloud account, that person could be considered to be “in possession” of CSAM. And, finally, if that person shares the picture with anyone else—minor or adult, stranger or friend—that person could also be considered to be “distributing” CSEM.
Given the Thorn survey’s findings, this is troubling. At the very least, over 15% of mid to late teens could be found guilty of producing CSEM.
Why do teens send nudes?
Now that we’ve established that it is relatively common, we need to understand why teens are doing this—especially given the fact that it is illegal. Well, the reasoning tends to differ between guys and girls.
According to Megan Maas from Michigan State University, “Boys feel more pressure to collect sexts and are more likely to share them with friends or post them online.”
On the other hand, a report from Northwestern University analyzing stories young women posted online found that girls feel the pressure to comply, even though they face a double standard of being called either a “slut” or a “prude,” depending on their response to the request.
Either way, it doesn’t seem like the reason shows a clear understanding of the severity of the consequences of sending a nude of yourself, or others, around—especially considering the legal ramifications that could happen if you were charged with production, distribution, or possession of CSEM.
Legal ramifications aside, taking or sending nudes is also contributing to exploitation and objectification. To girls, it might suggest that their worth is their body, and boys may be more likely to see girls as sexual objects for their pleasure.
How is this message helpful to anyone?
Have you sent nudes while you were under 18?
As you can see from the surveys above, teens are sending and receiving nudes now more than ever. If you have nudes online from when you were under 18, you’re not alone—there is help to get them removed. Take It Down is a free resource created by the National Center on Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) created to help you remove online nude, partially nude, or sexually explicit photos and videos taken before you were 18. If you’ve sent an explicit picture to someone while you were under 18, and now they’re threatening you or have posted it somewhere, or even if you’re unsure whether the image has been shared but want some help to try to remove it from places it may appear online, this service is for you.
Take It Down is a free service that can help you remove or stop the online sharing of nude, partially nude, or sexually explicit images or videos taken of you when you were under 18 years old. You can remain anonymous while using the service, and you won’t have to send your images or videos to anyone. You can learn how to use Take It Down, a free, anonymous resource, here.
For more victim resources, click here.
What you can do about the issue of sexting and porn
Youth are the experiment and often the casualties when it comes to today’s unprecedented online world—including the prevalence of sharing nudes and consuming porn. Understanding this issue and all its influences is vital in helping protect them and helping them understand that healthy love and relationships are worth fighting for.
Fight the New Drug’s age-appropriate and engaging presentations highlight research from respected academic institutions that demonstrates the significant impacts of porn consumption on individuals, relationships, and society. We take a three-dimensional approach to raising awareness on the harmful effects of pornography in society, so in addition to creating tools and resources for our global supporter base to share, we also love getting face-to-face with people in their schools and cities to provide research-backed information on this important issue.
Offering presentations customized for each audience, all Fight the New Drug presentations align with our mission as a non-religious and non-legislative organization educating with science, facts, and personal accounts.
We can provide engaging, empowering, and educational presentations for these types of audiences:
- Middle School/Junior High
- High School
We empower audiences to make educated decisions that can better equip them to love themselves, have healthy relationships, and make a positive difference in the world.