Sexting [2015]: Corruption & Desire

Sexting & Intimate Relations Online: Identifying How People Construct Emotional Relationships Online & Intimacies Offline by Esmé Spurling

This paper* focuses on current and topical issues that society scrutinises in social and broadcast media: sexting and intimate relations online. The way in which we interact shapes our perception of others and how we position ourselves within the offline and online spheres. These worlds are consistently overlapping and therefore it should be acknowledge how our methods of communications are changing within not only professional but personal relationships – and not only for the better. Corruption, desire and “slut” shaming are key focuses throughout this paper, to find the balance of heterosexual gender discourses within contemporary society.


Intimate relationships online have become stimulated through mobile technology’s advancement and the convenient nature the digital world offers in terms of instant communication. This availability for “real time” conversations on social media platforms has become to accommodate an online space for sexting. Sexting: the ability to communicate intimately or explicitly through a form of digital communication has changed the way we use our mobile phones or tablets, demanding a need for immediate response. However, this ability to discuss sex digitally begins to complicate the movement between emotional intimacies in offline spaces.

I observe the understanding of the construction of these emotional boundaries.

“[A]fter all, sex is something normal and natural, but sexting… the emotion and memory I had, I can re-live it again…” Claire, [20] Undergraduate (2015)

This ethnographic research focuses upon a heterosexual gender discourse, considering a sense of “sex expectation” through the views of a series of expert and non-expert interviews in order to deconstruct an understanding of how social media and mobile technology facilitates intimacy online. I acknowledge the ideology; that it is acceptable to “relive” the memory, but weak in turn for men to display this sense of emotion.

There is a tendency for users online to adopt an alternative identity (Hasinoff 2014) that they may not be willing to explore in the offline world for fear of stigmatisation or rejection. Resulting in the use of hosting explicit sexual images online, within a public domain once intended to be private: multiple sites already exist on Twitter, @sexselfies (2014) and @iTakeSexSelfies (2015).


Reflecting these online sites highlights the contrasting identities of gender discourses: the ideology that women who display an [public] interest in sex become identified as a “slut” (Ringrose & Harvey 2015) whilst societal discourses require men to express their interest in sex rather than their emotive feelings towards an intimate relationship (Shilling, 2003). I will then acknowledge that there is an emotional risk to intimacy online that may not be reciprocated offline, causing potential relationship conflict.


Sexting has recently become scrutinised within social and broadcast media: therefore a timely topic to pursue. Sexting provides a lens through which to examine what is deemed to be “acceptable” within contemporary society regarding intimate relationships through the very public digital documentation of intimacy. My positionality as a researcher is considered throughout this research, whose experience is proximate to the young adults who ‘sext’. I therefore consider myself as a “digital native” (Prensky, 2001:09), maturely developing alongside the advancement of technology, documenting the manipulation of online identities. I therefore consider the notion of corruption and desire, is sex unconsciously perceived as an adult concept if young adults are less aware of offline consequences?

“[W]e have made children into objects of desire,” (Goldstein 2009:143)


This concept of corruption juxtaposes ideas of modern adaption of social discourses that are adopting to contemporary culture, catalysed by mobile technology. Social media can provide fuel to this ‘corruption’ by the generation who have explicitly developed alongside the construction of the online world, where intimacy can be emotionally formed and deconstructed.


(NYC [2015] Spotlight Collection)



Hasinoff, A. (2014) “Blaming Sexualisation for Sexting” Girlhood studies (7) Berghahn Journals 102-120

Goldstein, L. (2009) “Documenting and Denial: Discourses of sexual self-exploitation” Jump Cut 51-52

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 2: Do They Really Think Differently?.On the Horizon, 9(6), pp.1-9

Ringrose, J. & Harvey, L. (forthcoming 2015) “BBM is more like” Putting technology theory, policy and education into Dialogue with Girls and Young Women’s Voices Institute of Education, London. [available online]:

Shilling, C. (2003). The body and social theory. London: SAGE Publications.



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