Last night at the MTV Movie awards, actress Reese Witherspoon addressed sexting in her Generation Award speech. Possibly responding to the purported nude photos of Gossip Girl star Blake Lively circulating the internet, she advised the audience that in her day, you didn't need to act "bad" to make it, but if you are going to take a nude picture, "Hide your face people, hide your face!"

Is Reese Witherspoon the voice of reason in the ongoing debate on how to handle sexting?

Public service announcements have aired cautioning girls not to take nude photos. Teens have been prosecuted for distributing child pornography and placed on the sex offender list. Lawmakers in New York are currently pushing a bill that would require teens accused of sexting to enter a government education reform program that would teach them the impact graphic photos could have on their future relationships and career. It is not know if any of these actions are helping to reduce the frequency of adolescent sexting.

Sexting has become a mainstay of sexual behavior with almost 60% of young adults engaging in it. Provocative photos can be viewed as a physically safe form of sexual expression which does not expose the participant to the risks of unwanted pregnancy or STIs. While there are millions of Americans who sext everyday without repercussion, there are also those in the unlucky minority whose images have gone viral. These unfortunate individuals have come from all walks of life, from average high school students, to celebrities, pro-athletes and even politicians. The risk for teenagers is especially high because most adolescents do not yet have fully formed decision making capabilities, nor the emotional maturity to handle the pressures of such a scandal. While it may be difficult to dissuade teens from sexting, it certainly seems the damage would be lessened if the sexter knew to "hide their face".

As the PSAs and the education reform programs warn, a sext can follow a person for the rest of their lives. A potential mate or employer could see the photo and pass judgment. But a body shot can live forever, without anyone knowing who posed for the picture, and a denial can go a long way without a face to prove otherwise. So, Reese Witherspoon may have offered some practical and free advice to teens watching the MTV Movie Awards, "Hide your face people, hide your face!"

About the Author

Kathryn Stamoulis Ph.D.

Kathryn Stamoulis, Ph.D., teaches at psychology at Hunter College, and specializes in adolescent and sexual development.

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