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The Telegraph
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TEXTING TEENS

First the telephone, then the condom and the Pill, and now the internet and the mobile phone. The history of sexuality — of the intimate life and relationships — is inextricable from the progress of medicine and technology. And what keep changing are patterns of behaviour as well as modes of feeling. Connectivity, or quicker access to the virtual world, together with immense advances in the science and economics of mobility, is changing the nature of privacy, desire and freedom. These changes are universal, yet tied in different ways to context — to geography, culture and class. An Australian study reports that older teens are getting used to sending one another sexually explicit text messages and pictures as a normal part of courtship. Yet, interestingly, in spite of this greater freedom in their virtual lives — perhaps, because of this — they seem to be having less sex in their actual lives. In poorer societies, as in India, when mobile phones and the internet are getting increasingly within reach of the under-privileged, the link between desire and action — between wanting and getting — could be complicated and difficult to manage.

First, between the world inside a social networking site, dating site or chatroom, and the world outside (the home, neighbourhood, school or college), there might be a gap — a real incongruity between the virtual and the social spaces that is challenging to negotiate for a young person. The transplantation of sexual and cultural attitudes produced in, and marketed from, one kind of society or economy to another kind of everyday life may not be a seamless process. The privacy with a romantic partner afforded by her phone to a 15-year-old living with her conservative parents in a tiny room would be difficult to realize for her in actual terms. Yet, to be able to send this person a word or an image in the middle of the night would amount to a radical advance in her secret life. Second, from the most affluent to the least privileged, being skilled with a phone or computer is no guarantee for being able to come up with the right set of ‘life skills’ — schoolteachers quake at this phrase — when suddenly required to do so. Virtual worlds require virtual selves, which may not be prepared to deal with the demands of real selves in real bodies. Pixels are easier to manage than persons.