Sexting: The New 'Courtship'

Sexting: The New 'Courtship'

Hey parents, guess what?

That naked picture your daughter just “sexted” to her classmate isn’t worrisome after all.  It’s just the new way kids flirt these days.  Like when you would send a note in elementary school that said, “Do you like me?  Check one: ‘Yes,’ or ‘No.’ ”

Sure, they’re naked.  Or talking to each other in sexually explicit ways. 

But relax.  Everyone’s doing it.

According to research from La Trobe University’s Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (tasked by the Australian government), nearly three quarters of 15- to 18-year-olds have sexted, and half have sent naked or semi-naked photos and videos of themselves.  84 percent have received sexually explicit messages by phone or email.

The report also found that 70 percent of the surveyed teenagers were sexually active, and that nearly three quarters of those did not regret having sex.

Anne Mitchell, author of the report, said, “It’s a social, online world kids live in and sending these images and messages is part of the sexual relationship so it’s really a new form of courtship.”  And, she added, “It doesn’t appear to be doing harm for the majority of kids.”

Her advice?

“Parents need to stop panicking about the use of technology and trust their kids – talk to them about their relationships, treating others well, having the kind of sex they want and being safe.”

I hardly know where to begin.

Actually, I do.

Anyone who believes that parenting should be led by the “everybody’s doing it” mentality doesn’t have a clue what parenting is about. 

By definition, parenting is the mature leading and caring for the immature.  The role of a parent is not to instantly affirm immature behavior, no matter how widespread it may be manifest in culture, but to “parent” the child in relation to those behaviors.

Anyone who thinks an 18 year-old boy sending pictures of his genitals to a 15 year-old girl is simply “courtship” doesn’t have a clue what courtship entails. 

True courtship is when you invest in a relationship to determine whether or not to grow in intimacy and commitment, historically with a view toward marriage.  Sex is at the end of that process, not at the beginning.  Sex is the result of courtship, not the beginning.  And anyone who has the most rudimentary knowledge of relational health and development knows that sex at the start of a relationship – particularly when young – can overwhelm things, cloud judgment, and stultify the actual development of a relationship.

Anyone who says sexting doesn’t seem to be harming kids doesn’t have a clue what “harm” means. 

If the idea of “harm” is reduced to statistics related to whether the rise of sexting is tied to increased sexual activity, or risky sexual activity, then “harm” is reduced to simple promiscuity and unprotected sex.  But the idea of “harm” in a person’s life is so much deeper, so much more comprehensive, that it is beyond irresponsible to declare that sexting is innocuous.  Not only does such a view fail to consider the widespread emotional dynamics of sex at any age, it pretends that the spiritual realm does not even exist and thus cannot be wounded.

I know our culture is rapidly coarsening.  I know that what was once repugnant to our collective moral conscience is now celebrated.  But affirming young teens in pornifying themselves?

That’s not the new courtship.

That’s the new corruption.

James Emery White



“'Sexting' is new courtship', parents are told,” Miranda Prynne, The Telegraph, May 5, 2014, read online.

The Church&Culture team cannot recommend highly enough the series Dr. White did titled “The UnderProtective Parent” on issues such as this and more, available through the resources section of

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.