To sext or not to sext. Whether you do or don't, a class of Auburn students agreed that sexting is here to stay.
"I feel like [sexting] is a part of our society because we are moving so fast and people are moving on to the next person so quickly," Cydne Wright, junior in journalism, said. "Everyone is trying to figure out what they can do to keep someone interested."
While not casual classroom conversation, the question of whether to partake in sexting is one that infiltrates the lives of millions of college students across the country.
Where it's happening
The Plainsman conducted a survey that polled 433 Auburn students on their thoughts and experiences involving sexual content across a range of digital platforms. Forty-four percent of students surveyed said they have shared revealing or sexualized photos using a mobile device. In search of personal anecdotes, The Plainsman held a facilitated conversation with a class of 12 students studying media law.
From Snapchat, Facebook, texting and dating apps to video chat and more, the platforms for sexting seem to grow daily, many students said.
Emma Reifenberger, junior in public relations, said sexting implies the action of texting, but in today's tech-driven society other social media platforms shouldn't be excluded.
Platforms like Snapchat seem safer, with a timer and the apparent vanishing effect, said Addie Smith, senior in communications, but the risks are still there. She recalled a male friend having an app to prevent senders from knowing a screenshot has been taken.
There is a problem with people being naive and assuming the photo is just gone when it is absolutely not, Smith said.
Where pictures are saved, pictures are shared. The question of whether explicit and sexual content shared in confidence stay in the original hands was answered by head shakes across the classroom. Students told story after story in which photos were passed around and sent in group messages.
A student who wished to remain unnamed said that once photos are sent, there is not much the sender can do.
"If you send someone a picture, you are sending them that property, and it now belongs to them," he said. "To say that it is anyone else's fault for them showing your pictures around is absolutely asinine. You are making that decision, and you are assuming the risk when you send a picture or a message."
Reifenberger and Lindsey Engles, junior in public relations, agreed that they aren't ever surprised by a request for explicit photos or conversation.
"I've started to expect it to come up at some point," Engles said.
When it starts and whether it should
Where sexual activity slacks, sexting fills in the gaps, many in the class said. Wright said sexting was somewhat of a gateway activity.
While prominent among college-aged students, sexting starts behind the doors of high schools all over the country, Engles said.
Solely considering college students and those older than 18, 56 percent of students polled in the survey said sexting is morally OK.
Sexting can be seen as a form of expression, Wright said, but at a certain point, the circumstances can be questionable, eventually settling on how the whole action is "blurry."
"I think it is OK, but I don't think it is wise or smart," Reifenberger added. "I think it is like posting a picture on Facebook of you holding alcohol while you are looking for a job. It may not be smart, but it is OK. You don't know who is going to get those pictures or what they will do with them."
Whether religion makes a difference
On the other hand, Ann Leonard, junior in journalism, spoke about her religious beliefs and how they influenced her opinion on sexting.
"I don't think it's OK, but I am not going to judge someone who does it," Leonard said. "Speaking on behalf of the whole, I can't say if it's right or wrong."
According to The Plainsman poll, 65 percent of those who identified as nonreligious had sent sexual or explicit photos. In contrast, 34 percent of those who said they were religious said they have sent photos.
Brittney Beasley, senior in journalism, attributed the religious stance on sexting as a result of the Bible Belt's influence on students, as many have grown up being told sexting defies moral and spiritual teachings.
Caroline McMullin, junior in journalism, said she was unsure of how much of a correlation there was between religious stance and sexting. She referenced people she had known with strong foundations in faith and church who have sexted.
Regardless of religious identity, the overall conclusion of the class was that sexting, if you're caught, is embarrassing. Society frowns upon those who sext, they said.
"I think women are under pressure to have a more pure image," Wright said. "I think it goes back to women being expected to not have a lot of sex or to keep it to themselves. The idea of sending out pictures goes along with that."
The consequences of being caught are not worth it, many said.
"It's not too long now before every presidential candidate will have a d--- pic," said Timothy Herring, senior in agriculture communications.
But others said society is becoming more understanding of sexual activity, including sexting.
"In the future," Wright said, "I'm curious to see how different we are with accepting our bodies."
Editor's Note: Sam Willoughby, community writer, and Kris Martins, enterprise editor, contributed to the research for this article.
Editor's Note: The Auburn Plainsman's poll conducted through Qualtrics surveyed 433 students but was not a scientific poll.