Moral panic.

Moral panic defined by the Oxford English dictionary is “an instance of public anxiety or alarm in response to a problem regarded as threatening the moral standards of society”. So what exactly threatens moral standards of a society?


Sex has always, will always and can always challenge societies. Sex icons through the ages (think Elvis, Madonna, Marilyn Monroe or James Dean to name a few) have waded through their fair share of controversy. In the digital age, it is no longer only the worldwide celebrities or superstars able to easily contribute to society’s moral panic.

Where do we begin with the rise of online rating? Well, let’s look at the juicy stuff first…

New Scrabble Words 2015 by Jonathan Rolande (CC BY 2.0)

Simply put sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit messages, images, and videos through a personal computer or mobile device (tablets, phones etc.). Even simple discussion or introduction of sexual content within a conversation can be considered sexting.

Understanding the issues involved with sexting is vital, for parents and sexters themselves. First and foremost we must understand that with any media created and disseminated (excuse the pun) digitally, regardless of whom receives it, it is never truly able to be deleted or uncirculated. Anything online is able to become public, potentially jeopardising future relationships, employment opportunities or even public relations. Despite many governments (The Victorian Parliament passed the Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences and Other Matters) Bill 2014 on 15 October 2014, section 41DA) passing legislation to protect those from distributing explicit and intimate images, and no matter how certain the recipient won’t be sharing any images, sending sexts can certainly tempt fate. Parents of adolescents potentially involved in sexting must familiarise themselves with the dangers of sexting, establishing ground rules of communication with levels of expectations.

Photograph by Keith Edson, 25th April 2017

Humans often explore their sexuality, online and offline. With the understanding that the true self is formed through the guise of online anonymity, so too is suppressed sexual desire or expression, which leads us to the positives of sexting! It can’t all be considered terrible if it’s as widespread and global as any other technological innovation. Courting couples, ‘long distance’ lovers and happily married high-school sweethearts would have all been involved in some form of sexting, perhaps not to the same degree as the curious 15-year-olds which cause the aforementioned moral panic, but certainly in ways which very positively lead to intimacy and romance.

Watson and Smith discuss how when users are constructing their own web pages or profiles, often they are revealing their true self, their very essence in the context of their choosing with no social constraints (Smith and Watson, 2014, p. 71). The same can apply to online dating and sexting, which leads to the view that digital screen culture cultivates a further expression of all sexuality and gender, both diverse and ‘traditional’. Whatever your tribe, find it – belong. They’re waiting. Alt-porn is an excellent example of this developing further, despite the name suggesting otherwise.

Online communication with any intention (no matter how large or small) of a relationship can be difficult to define, not all flirting is verbal and certainly online conversations and platforms blur these lines further. ‘Online sex’ is something that evolves with the technology it uses, 10 years ago the concept of being able to live stream high-definition video to a partner or global audience would seem farfetched but today done freely across the globe. With virtual reality technology becoming widely available, so too are further opportunities for immersive online sexual relationships, fantasies and exploration. We must consider how online relationships are developing alongside technology, globalisation enables long distance relationships on new levels. The normal couple in 2027 may spend most of their time ‘together’ apart, intimate or otherwise.

Online dating / offline mating By Torley (CC BY 2.0)

The development of technologies and the widespread accessibility of digital media can create their own issues in the realm of pornography. The increasing ease of access to pornography can potentially cause harm to the less mature audience and also see their sexual expectations shifted or warped. The availability of free and uncensored pornography has permeated online culture thoroughly, often geared toward derogatory, demeaning and dominant messages about women, men, sex and power.

Cybersex, sexting, pornography and dating (I almost want to avoid the term online dating altogether, as the separation is too vague, it’s 2017!) create a fog of uncertainty, a fog where surveillance is difficult and the future unpredictable. The law protects legal online activities, romantic or otherwise, but the difficulties of online dating paired with those with the wrong intentions make protecting the innocent singleton somewhat strenuous.

Smith, S and Watson, J 2014, ‘Virtually Me: A Toolbox about Online Self-Presentation’, in Poletti, A and Rak, J, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, pp. 3-11.

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