Dewey, who covers the intersection of tech and culture, talks sexting with Kara Swisher and Lauren Goode.
On a recent episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, Washington Post columnist Caitlin Dewey chatted with Recode’s Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode about whether it’s possible to be addicted to sexting.
You can read some of the highlights from their discussion at that link, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Transcript by Celia Fogel.
Lauren Goode: Well, Kara, we did have a nice couple of weeks together in the same room, but now you’ve left me. You’re gone.
Kara Swisher: Well, I know, I want you to miss me, that’s all.
LG: Well, I do. Immensely. Where are you this week?
KS: I’m in Washington, D.C., today. And next week I’ll be in Germany. Do you think that the cannabis company we talked about there last week delivers?
LG: No, I don’t think they … you mean to Germany?
KS: Yeah, Germany.
LG: No, I don’t think you’re going to … we spoke with this …
KS: That was fun. That was a fun show.
LG: That was a really fun show.
KS: I really enjoyed that a lot.
LG: We learned a lot. It was one of those episodes where we went in honestly not knowing that much about the technology, and we did get some good questions from our readers who may or may not have been too embarrassed to use their names.
KS: I learned a lot. And I’m all ready when California passes the law legalizing it. And we’re going to be all ready to go when that happens.
LG: For recreational purposes. Kara is all about the recreational marijuana, apparently.
KS: Yeah, absolutely.
LG: And if you’re interested in listening to that episode with the CEO of Eaze, Keith McCarty, you can find it on iTunes, Google, recode.net. Basically wherever you find our podcast, you can find all the previous episodes of Too Embarrassed to Ask. And they’re not all about illicit stuff. There’s some really helpful stuff there too.
KS: Well, yes, they are actually, because this week we’re done with drugs and we’re moving on to sex. Specifically sexting. Lauren, explain why we’re doing this. Because drugs and sex help our listeners? Is that why we’re doing it?
LG: Yeah, it’s all about the clickbait, clearly; that’s what it’s about. No, a few weeks ago Kara and I were sitting here. We were taping a podcast with someone else, and the Anthony Weiner scandal — I mean just the latest one — broke. And we started chatting about it, and we said, you know, this is really, this is really a thing now. It’s not just dopey politicians who are getting in trouble for sexting, but mobile messaging is really a way of life now and that means that all the things that people might do in real life — IRL as the kids say — they’re also doing over messaging.
KS: Right, exactly. And in fact it’s a better medium for that in many ways. And, you know, we can make as much fun as you want about Anthony Weiner, but it’s a phenomena, and for parents and others it can be troubling at the same time. It’s also very human, if it’s consulting adults. And so we wanted to kind of take the stigma away from it in the good parts and talk about the bad parts too. Obviously it got Anthony Weiner into a lot of trouble and sort of ruined his life in a lot of ways, but it brings us to a lot of questions about sexting and about what it means and how we’re interacting with our digital devices in different ways. And this is one that everyone tends to giggle at, but at the same time everyone does, or a lot of people do for sure.
LG: So we’ve brought in a special guest for this week’s podcast to talk about the topic. In studio with Kara is Caitlin Dewey. She writes about internet culture for the Washington Post, and she also writes a weekly email newsletter called Links I Would Gchat You If We Were Friends. Caitlin, thank you so much for coming on Too Embarrassed to Ask.
KS: And thank you for being our sexting expert. It’s so nice to have an expert at sexting.
Caitlin Dewey: I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not, but thank you for having me.
KS: It’s completely, are you kidding me? I live in San Francisco; it’s a total compliment. And I just want to say, Caitlin is all dressed up. I’m wearing like sports clothes and everything, so she looks nice. She’s ready to go, to talk about this very important issue. And actually we’re going to talk broadly about the cultural phenomena and then we’re going to talk about teenagers, what parents could do to keep on eye on their kids and what they might be doing with their phones. My son is here actually, probably Snapchatting, I hope he’s not doing anything, just simple Snapchatting.
LG: He’s in the room with you guys?
KS: No, no, I have him doing homework somewhere else. But I definitely … it’s something I talk to him about. So he’s a 14-year-old and it’s something that’s concerning to me. So let’s get started with Caitlin.
LG: So I guess first what we should start off just asking what is sexting, or how do you define sexting exactly these days?
Yeah, so that’s a good question because a lot of people sort of lump two things together when they talk about sexting. You know, they could just be sort of sexaully explicit messages that you echange with a partner or something …
KS: Over text or whatever.
Right, text. And then there’s this whole separate issue of pictures. Which, you know, that documentation adds a whole other layer of controversy and sort of complication to it.
KS: And then the rise of it is because of these mobile phones, correct? The idea that we all have these things and they’re very convenient and you can just sit on your computer late at night kind of thing.
Right. So in preparation for this, Kara, I actually looked up the first reference of sexting in the media …
KS: Oh, good, tell us!
… and it was in an Australian newspaper column in 2005.
KS: Those Australians.
LG: They’re late to it.
So basically, I mean when you think that cellphones with cameras were becoming widespread in the early oughts, I mean sexting was pretty much right as soon as that technology was available, sexting followed.
KS: Absolutely. A lot of it has to do with photos, although it existed before that. There used to be phone calls that you used to do like that — you know, dirty phone calls and things, and people pay for them or not, or whatever. It’s not a new phenomena, it’s just that they’re taking these tools and using them for new purposes. And video and photos creates an opportunity to do that.
Sure. I would even hesitate to define it as its own discrete phenomenon. I mean really it’s just sort of an outcropping of the documentary surveillance culture that we all exist in now. It’s just applied to our sexual lives, basically.
KS: So you’re saying that it’s part of just an ongoing issue with humans. They get another tool and they want to use it for something and often it has to do with sex or porn or anything else. What are the apps that people are using now for this? Obviously people use mobile phones, but what specifically is the most popular? If you could go on down the line that would be helpful.
Sure. So I think the most popular apps are still just your basic messaging apps. So that’s going to be just, you know, your basic messenger on Apple or Android. WhatsApp is also popular. Snapchat, of course, is quite infamous for this, maybe unfairly.
KS: Why unfairly?
Well, you know, Snapchat is sort of like a behemoth now, but they a’re still some media outlets who will refer to it as like “Snapchat, the sexting app for kids.” Which obviously we know that’s not the case. So I think those are probably the primary ones. But you can find sexting on almost any social network, or sexual imagery on almost any social network that’s popular with teenagers. So that would include things like Tumblr or there’s that new app, Musical.ly now, I was just reading something about this in the Times yesterday. Some concerns there, things like, you know, streaming sites. At what point are the kids going to turn this to sexier things we might not what them to?
KS: But not just the kids — the adults too, correct?
Right. Well, you know, it’s only really problematic when it’s between children or nonconsenting individuals. So between consenting adults, I think most of society has come around to sexting.
LG: Right. Unless you’re a politician sexting with a Trump supporter — it might be a little problematic then.
Just a little.
KS: Why is that problematic? Why is that exactly? Because, you know, if everybody’s doing it and everyone makes fun of this guy, why is that happening? Because we’re just jackasses as the human race or what is the issue there?
Yeah, I don’t actually think that has anything to do with sexting. If he were sexting his wife, Huma Abedin, I don’t think it would have been really a big deal at all. Of course it would be because it’s Anthony Weiner, but in general if a politician was found to be sexting within the confines of like a committed relationship or marriage, I don’t think people would consider that an issue. It rather goes back to this whole infidelity thing, and does he have a problem, is it a compulsion. And those are things that really have nothing to do with the technology.
KS: Do you think it’s a compulsion when people are using these devices — I mean these apps and things like that when they’re doing it?
That’s a great question. It’s interesting because the science is really out on this one. You know there are a lot of psychologists and researchers who are arguing that internet addiction and sex addiction should both be added to what they called the DSM 5 manual, which is sort of the official list of mental disorders that the professional community recognizes. But they repeatedly have chosen not to add them because we don’t have enough evidence as to whether they’re addictive yet. So people will tell you that they feel like it’s a compulsion, they feel that they can’t stop themselves from going online or from sending a sexually explicit message and things of that nature. But we don’t actually know if it’s its own addiction or if it’s part of some other complex.
LG: In an article that you wrote following the most recent Weiner scandal, specifically about addiction, you cited a study that said it found that people most inclined to problematic sexting are also the the ones inclined towards other sorts of high risk behaviors. So it kind of begs the question as to whether or not the addiction itself is the problem or symptomatic of another problem.
Exactly right. So people who are … who feel they have this sort of compulsion to sexting frequently have other issues, maybe with alcohol or drug abuse, maybe they suffer from depression or anxiety disorders. So it’s sort of like, you know, a chicken or an egg problem. Is the sexting a symptom of this other problem or is the sexting itself a problem? So that’s something researchers are still trying to nail down.
KS: So is there data around age groups or specific demographics for sexting more than others?
Yeah, absolutely. So as you would expect, young people sext at a much greater rate than perhaps their parents or grandparents do. I think there’s new studies coming out about this all the time, but I think among college-age students, the rate now is about 70 percent have sexted, whether a picture or just a sexy text message that doesn’t have a pictorial element. Among teenagers, it’s a bit lower. I think it’s between 40 and 50 percent. And then as you go up from there, it tends to drop down. But I mean at this point in time, sexting is quite normalized, particularly among young people. It’s really in no way a deviant or unusual behavior.
KS: When you think about that, what if it’s not a deviant behavior, which it isn’t at all, it seems totally healthy to do that — does it change the nature of relationships when you’re doing this over digital means? Because a lot of people are on Tinder — obviously Tinder is not a sexting element, but it is … it’s a meeting you and figuring out if you want to hook up with someone later. Does it change the dynamics of how we interact? Because before, you sort of had to be witty or interesting or something else. And in this way you have to be interesting in a whole different way or just the baldfacedly just sexy and just say dirty things to people. So how do you imagine that impacting society? Because that’s how people interact with each other.
Yeah, that’s interesting. That’s a good question. I mean I’ve read that young people today are not any more promiscuous or sexual than they were 20 or 40 or 50 years ago, despite this impression that we have that kids are sexting all the time, like there’s all of a sudden this culture where you have to perform your sexuality through technology all the time. I don’t actually think that’s the case. I sort of suspect that the thing that makes sexting impactful in our relationships is the fact that now the sort of, like, evidence of our sexual interactions lives on, right? So that requires an element of trust and a sort of dynamic there that perhaps was not as necessary before when we weren’t’ documenting these interactions. But I’m not sure it necessary impacts relationships per se. I mean people were still seeing each other naked, whether there were pictures to prove it or not.
KS: Right, but at the same time you can’t talk to people. This is the way you interact and talk to people. I’ve seen teens to talk to each other sitting right next to each other. All the time. It happens almost continually. And that’s the way you interact. And it’s not necessarily a bad way, it’s just a different way to do so.
Yeah, I mean you have a 14-year-old, so you’re probably the expert here [laughs].
KS: I know, I watch very carefully. He’s using it largely for communications than anything else I think. I don’t think … you know, there may be a bawdy thing or two every now and then, but I think he likes the filters. It’s largely communications and trying to one up each other. But it’s largely through Snapchat and it’s largely to amuse each other I think.
LG: I mean, you have to wonder about the actual impact on promiscuity, as you mentioned Caitlin, when these interactions are happening entirely in this kind of virtual environment. On the one hand, is there a risk of desensitizing, especially younger people perhaps; on the other hand, if they’re not actually interacting in real life, then maybe these sorts of performances or acts aren’t happening in real life, which is the other side of it.
That’s really interesting. You know, I don’t know if we’ve established whether these are sort of supplemental to people’s real life sexual relationships or whether they replace them. I suspect it’s supplemental, but I mean, yeah, you raise a great point. Teens are waiting longer to have sex now than at any other point in recorded history. So if you want to sort of claim that sexting or things like that sexualizes teens or exposes them to sexual imagery at an earlier age, I’m not really sure that’s the case or that it’s having the harmful impact that some people worry about.
KS: Might be letting off steam in a lot of ways.
LG: We have no data to support this by the way, but some countries are suffering from low birthrates right now. I know in Italy they’ve launched a campaign to try to get people to procreate, essentially, and Japan. And years from now it’s all going to tie back to sexting. It’s all going to be like, “This is the reason why birthrates are down. People have just been sexting the whole time and not consummating their relationships.”
KS: Thank you, Dr. Goode. I just think it’s really interesting, because you had written Caitlin, that it’s a wrinkle in modern love is what it is. It’s just another wrinkle and stuff like that. We’ve been talking about sexting and what it means for full-grown adults. Now we’re talking about what it means for younger people, specifically teens who are obsessed with their smartphones, as I can attest since I have them. But also what it means to have access to more stuff and be able to see things and do things that other teens weren’t able to do just a dozen years ago.
LG: And earlier this week I pulled up some interesting stats from Pew’s research around teens and messaging and sexting specifically, and we thought we’d share this with our listeners now from Pew’s Teen Social Media and Technology Overview from 2015. Ninety-one percent of teens go online from a mobile device, at least occasionally, so that’s the overwhelming majority. And I thought this was really interesting, the number of text messages sent or received by cellphone-owning teens ages 13-17 on a typical day is 30. But the number of text messages exchanged for girls is higher — they’re typically sending and receiving 40 messages a day, which, I mean, anecdotally doesn’t strike me as unusual. When I was growing up, I know that my female friends and I talked on the phone a lot more than maybe some other kids did. But another Pew study from October 2015 said that among all teens surveyed, 10 percent of teens have sent flirty or sexy pictures of videos of themselves. But interestingly, if they had “dating experience” in some way, that number went up to 23 percent of teens with dating experience having sent sexy or flirty pictures or videos to someone that they were interested in.
KS: Yeah, and the Pew research also shows there can be issues of harassment and coercion, which, Caitlin, you’ve written about. And I’ll tell you in my kid’s school there was an issue around this, with pictures getting out, everybody in trouble, everybody talking about it. It was quite a big deal at the school. I think every school has a version of this. And it was pretty surprising how hurtful it was to people to have these photos get out, one someone sent to the other, so talk a little about this and what you’ve written about it.
Yeah, so you know, we typically only hear those horror stories that you mentioned. I think it’s important to point out that the vast majority of even teens who sext do so within the bounds of relationships, research has shown. And they actually don’t suffer any consequences from it. So as a parent, don’t absolutely panic after hearing this …
KS: Well, you just need one story, right — naked pictures of your child get out.
Yeah, exactly. But you know what’s really concerning is that a study from Indiana University, I think it was about two years ago, found that one in five women who has sexted felt that she was coerced or compelled into it by her sexting partner, most frequently a boy. And those are the young women who tend to have a lot of problems with sexting. Frequently those are the situations that lead to what you were describing, where the pictures of them are passed around, or they’re used as blackmail. And, you know, I’ve spoken to people at various domestic violence centers and organizations about this, and they say they consider sexting coercion to actually be a new, emerging form of domestic violence and something they urge parents to talk to their daughters about, and young women to talk to their friends about and that sort of thing.
KS: And mothers to talk to their sons about.
Of course, yeah, of course.
KS: I think I threatened to break my kid’s fingers if he ever sent something rude to a woman online [laughs].
[laughs] That’s a good policy.
KS: Yeah, I’m such a good parent.
LG: And that’s just if he’s being rude — you’re not even talking about if he were to share something inappropriate.
KS: There was the famous Vanity Fair article that caused all kinds of ruckus around Tinder, and it was also about sexting and other things among young people where they seem so callous and rude to each other. Talk a little bit about that article, because it sort of sent reverberations. TInder responded saying, “This is not how people behave on the site,” and it was an over … you know, it was sort of a purple version of it, like, “Oh, this is dramatic and scary …” Talk about that article, because that had a big impact, I think.
Yeah, that article I think was a compilation of everyone’s worst visions for the future of romance and society. You know, there is a lot of evidence that people behave differently online. We have this thing called the online disinhibition effect …
KS: What’s that? Disinhibition effect? That’s how Lauren behaves all the time, but go ahead.
[laughs] I hope not! It’s basically this idea that people will do or say things online, particularly under a mask of anonymity, that they would never do in real life because they’re not getting that sort of visual or real-time feedback to what they’re doing. So yes, it’s true, people can tend to be more callous in those types of communications. There’s been some research to suggest that people on online dating sites feel their partners are more disposable than they might have if they didn’t have that wonderful pool of potential dates always waiting for them. But yeah, I mean, generally the article you’re talking about regarding Tinder that was in Vanity Fair, I mean, I think anyone who has experience on a dating site and who has read it will see sort of glimpses of truth but will also recognize that that is sort of the lowest of the low and not representative of the whole experience.
KS: It was interesting, because I literally read it and I woke up my son and I was like, “If you ever behave like this …” [laughter] And I just … I was furious. I literally woke him out of a dead sleep like, “Let me just tell you, this is very upsetting.” And I don’t even think he had a phone at the time. I just was so upset by the concept of it, largely because of how women were treated, and when you’re raising boys, you think about that a lot. But it was … it definitely set off a debate, because you don’t want to go the other way, saying there’s no problem either at the same time.
LG: Oh and by the way, people used to stack multiple dates in one night without necessarily using apps like that, too. I remember reading that and thinking, all right, long before apps, I remember hearing stories of people saying, “Well, I went out for happy hour with this person, but I gave myself an exit in case it didn’t go well, and then I had dinner with someone else.” Or whatever it might be, right? And so in terms of like just dating and interacting, I think there’ve always been people who have been, like, more of the fringe cases, and the technology is just now doing different things to enable them.
Yeah, I agree with you so completely. I feel like so many of the moral panics we have regarding technology, social media and sort of like dating and sex in particular, are actually moral panics about things that exist in human nature and exist offline. But now they’re so much more visible because of the technology, and the technology seems to reinvent them in new ways for us to get excited and upset about. So I think the Tinder article might be an example of that.
KS: Do you think people get desensitized to this? Or does it bring an awareness? I mean, we have a presidential candidate talking about his groin several times in a major debate. So obviously everyone’s sort of desensitized in a lot of ways. At the same time their disinhibition is exactly this. They just bhave anyway they feel like and it spills over into real life.
Yeah, I mean I think we’re certainly getting more accustomed to sexual imagery and discussion in the public life. I mean, just think what people were wearing the last time you turned on just your regular cable television. So yeah, I think that’s true.
KS: Absolutely. So talk about best practices. For teens and for adults, too. What are the best practices? Should you be on Telegram if you don’t want your stuff out there? You know, Jennifer Lawrence had her pictures put on Reddit. Every week there seems to be … Leslie Jones was hacked. I have hack attacks all the time, not that I have any … I mean they’re mostly pictures of food essentially. Food porn. I was looking through them, I was thinking, “I don’t have any really good pictures; I should take some.” [laughter] What are the best practices if you’re an adult and then if you’re a parent and an educator. It came up in my school last night, and all the parents were in a panic and I was the one saying, “Will you not worry about it? You should worry about raising your kids right, not about the devices.” But they were blaming the devices. So talk first about best practices for adults in this area and then best practices around kids.
Well, if you’re an adult, I mean obviously the sort of safest thing to do from a privacy standpoint is to share pictures within the confines of a relationship with someone you trust, if that’s really something you’re concerned about getting out. As far as sort of storage is concerned, a lot of the hacks and leaks of nude pictures, the pictures have been stored on cloud devices …
KS: Which are all of them.
Right. So, you know, I would never, ever discourage anyone, a man or a lady, from taking sexy pictures of themselves — go for it. But probably the safest thing to do is, like, take it on an old-fashioned phone camera [laughs].
KS: Polaroid! [laughter]
LG: Yeah, take a Polaroid, send it in the snail mail, send it off USPS. Hopefully the mailman doesn’t get curious and go through your mail.
KS: All right, Polaroid is not really the answer. What are the best places to protect them? Well, not send them to anybody, not take them probably, which you don’t want to do. So what do you imagine is a safer place? I know iCloud was the one, was the problem with Jennifer Lawrence’s, I think, an iPhone situation. They called, right? They somehow got a human being rather than these two-factor authentication and things like that.
Right, so I’ve written about this once before, and our advice at the the time after doing a lot of research into the various options that were out there is that your best bet if you want to protect your privacy when you’re sexting is actually not in your choice of app, but actually how you take the picture. So this might not aesthetically be what you’re looking for, but, you know, if you are taking a nude picture of yourself, maybe try to anonymize it as much as possible. So if you have a distinct tattoo, or do have your face in there, have it against a sort of anonymous background. And then for the extra paranoid in the audience, there are easy ways to sort of remove your camera and your phone’s metadata from the photo, which you can also do before you send it.
KS: Because that’s what you’re thinking when you make it: “Ahh, the metadata!” [laughter].
Kara, I assume that the people listening to this podcast are probably like the one audience for that [laughs].
KS: Yes, that is true. What is the way to remove metadata?
LG: Totally. They’re like, “I strip all my excess data already from photos before I sent them.”
So I’m not going to remember the exact extension now, but we recommended one good free tool for Windows and one for Mac if you Google like “how to send a safe sext Washington Post,” those will come up.
KS: Okay, and then what else? What other things? Telegram or the other services? The Cyber Dust or whatever?
I laugh every time you say Telegram because I’m thinking of like ISIS members sexting each other [laughs].
KS: Right, exactly [laughs]. They might.
You never know.
LG: Well, I mean at least if you use Snapchat, I will say that when someone does take a screen grab of something you’ve sent in Snapchat, you are immediately notified that someone’s taken a screen grab of you, so presumably the person that you’re exchanging messages with you trust to a point. But if they do start taking screen grabs, you could say like, “Hey what’s going on? Why are you saving these?” The whole point is they’re supposed to go away.
Yeah, I mean that’s unfortunately the problem with every app. There are actually several apps designed just for safe sexting, I’m not going to be able to remember them now. I think there might have been one called like Cuddle or something like that …
KS: Cuddle? [laughs].
But they all tell you, they all have these disclaimers like, “We can try to make you as safe as possible but there’s nothing we can do to disable the screenshot function on the other end.” So, you know, at the end of the day, yes, you could call someone out and say, “You took a picture of my sext,” but then they already have the picture, so …
KS: That’s right. That’s exactly right. But anytime you load them up to a cloud, you’re just risking that, no matter what you do. One of the things I would recommend, and I think Lauren probably has some things, is two-factor authentication on a lot of your … you should have it on everything. Again, I’m constantly getting hacked at. Some things aren’t, like Comcast doesn’t have a … I just yelled at them last night for this lack of two-factor authentication. There’s all kinds of other ways on all kinds of apps where you can guarantee a special question, special things. And so you’re not subject to someone calling customer service and tricking them into doing it. Because that’s the way people do get in. It’s a really interesting way, as if they can get to a person, that’s often the way they can get into an account.
LG: 2FA! Use it. Own it. Love it. Two-factor auth. There are lots of different applications out there that you can try.
KS: What else, Lauren, what other protective things?
LG: But less about what we can do — I’m saying “we” in sort of the speculative sense — what we can do to sort of protect from illicit selfies getting out there, whatever it might be. If you are a parent or you are an educator, and you have to sort of instill in younger people, like, “Listen, this digital footprint you’re leaving isn’t going to disappear. You may feel safe about it, but just be forewarned, here are the possible consequences.” What is the best way to do that?
So I was reading something about this earlier — it was about a … it was written by a sex educator, I believe in Louisiana I want to say, and she was saying if you start the conversation with teens from sort of like a dramatic or a scary or an alarmist place, like “everything you do lives online,” you’ve already lost the audience. They are very comfortable online; they do not feel the same sense of risk and consequence. So she was saying it’s really important to sort of ease into the sexting conversation. She was suggesting this metaphor that you say, you always wear a seatbelt in the car even though 99.9 percent of your car trips, you’re not going to get in a crash, and you should probably think the same way about how you behave online. Whether it comes to sexting, whether it comes to …
KS: Drunken photos.
Right. Whatever you may post that may be inadvisable, you want to sort of wear a seat belt, metaphorically, so to speak.
KS: It’s definitely hard because, again, my son got into trouble because they did a video, the lacrosse team, of course — they were singing a song that had some misogynistic terms in it, and he wasn’t singing, which I was pleased with, but he was there, and he was in the video and just smiling about it. And you know, when we talked about it — and he did end up apologizing to the class, which I’m glad he did; he did it on his own — but even though he hadn’t been singing it, I felt like you were there and you didn’t stop it. So it was kind of hard to … because you know they forget everything’s getting videotaped and that wasn’t a sexting thing, but it was a similar kind of thing. They just don’t remember that everything is now posted.
Everything is posted, which is really interesting, and it’s hard not to fear-monger at them.
LG: Yeah, like a documentary …
KS: Yeah, so we are like a documentary society, and that’s really hard. So when they move onto other things, I think, consequences, they’re not even thinking anymore. It’s like a Kim Kardashian society. Everyone’s Kim Kardashian at this point.
That’s true, but I mean that also means that maybe in 10 or 20 years when those kids are running for political office or whatever …
KS: Oh yeah, it’s going to be fun.
… we’ll be accepting of it, right?
KS: Yeah. “Oh yeah, I did that,” or … What was Bill Clinton again? I can’t remember … “I didn’t inhale …” [laughter]
LG: Well, you know what the number one takeaway from all of this is? Don’t use Twitter DM.
KS: [laughs] Don’t use Twitter DM. Yes, especially if you’re the CFO of Twitter, you have to not use it. Actually Twitter DM is dangerous in many, many ways. I have made mistakes on that myself. Usually it’s me saying, “Yep,” or something like that [laughter], but I’m waiting for the day.
LG: Or “Don’t bother me.”
KS: “Don’t bother me, leave me alone.” “Dick Costolo, stop inviting me to dinner.” All right, before we let you go, we have to ask you, you once wrote in a newsletter that you tried to explain sexting to your mom and it ended not well. Can you recount that, upon the end? Because I think older people sext. I think it’s … you know, I’m an older lady, I like to write a racy text every now and again.
Just for some context, my mother only recently acquired a smartphone and learned how to text. And she still does this sort of like one poke around her keyboard for letters there. So I think the point of our contention was my mother said, “No one should be sexting. If you want to avoid these problems, just don’t do it.” And me being the good young feminist that I am was like, “Mom, stop victim-blaming. Women can sext if they want, men can sext if they want. It’s the perpetrator’s problem.” So we had sort of like an argument on that road as to whether, like, who the onus is on to stop the sext from getting out there. But I repeat that while we have this sort of pathologized narrative around sexting, the vast majority of sexts do not have consequences for anyone involved and they’re part of a healthy adolescent … relationship, whatever you want to call it.
LG: And did your mom eventually come around to that?
Oh no, never. [laughter]
KS: Did you give her best practices or not? “Mom, you can anonymize your pictures. I mean, come on!” [laughter]
I don’t think she knows how to take picture on her phone yet, so … she recently learned emoji, so maybe I’ll teach her the various …
KS: Well, some of the emojis are kind of … have you seen the Kimojis? Some of them are … I had my much younger son send me some of those and I was like, “What are you doing?!” I was horrified.
LG: He’s like, “Mom, we’re just having eggplant for dinner, that’s all.” [laughter]
KS: He knew just what they were. It’s like having a Playboy under your bed from the 1950s. It was the exact same thing, except I got them. I was on the receiving end of the Kimojis. And I actually brought it up with Kim Kardashian. And she, of course, was like, “Did he like them?” I’m like, “He’s 11!! Of course he liked them!! What is wrong with you?!” [laughter] Anyway, she thought that was funny. But in any case, I have one final question, maybe Lauren does. When you’re writing about broader sexual things online, what do you think the trend going forward is? Is it going to be VR, is it going to be … do you think about those things? AR or VR or what? LIke what do you imagine the future is like? Is it like in “Sleeper,” where people put on helmets and headsets, or there’s a bunch of like … there’s a Sandra Bullock, Sylvester Stallone movie — if you can believe they starred in a movie together — similar to that. Where do you imagine it going?
Definitely it seems like virtual reality is the next frontier, right? But from everything I’ve heard, the apps that are available now are just like extremely awkward.
KS: They are.
So maybe it’s a matter of technology catching up to our sexual imaginations.
LG: No more questions for me. This has been really fascinating. I’ve learned a lot from this, so thank you.
KS: Yeah, absolutely. She just downloaded an anonymizer right now. [laughter] Caitlin, thank you so much for … [laughs] I’m sorry, Lauren. I’m not judging. We live in San Francisco. Lauren, you can date a goat as far as I’m concerned. Please anonymize it.
LG: If my Facebook page ever shows me in a relationship with a goat, please just have a sit-down talk with me, okay?
KS: No, it’s San Francisco, you can do whatever you want. Caitlin, thank you so much for joining us. This has been another great episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask.
Thank you so much for having me.