Social media and dating apps are putting unprecedented pressures on America's teen girls, author Nancy Jo Sales says. Her new book, American Girls, opens with a story about one 13-year-old who received an Instagram request for "noodz" [nude photos] from a boy she didn't know very well.
"When I was a girl and the things that would come up in your life that were difficult or troubling or whatever — there was always a Judy Blume book for it," Sales tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. But, Sales says, when it comes to responding to an out-of-the-blue solicitation for naked images, "there's no Judy Blume book for that. There's nothing for them to turn to, to know, like, 'How do I react to this?'"
In the 2 1/2 years she spent researching her book, Sales interviewed more than 200 teenage girls around the country about their social media and Internet usage. She says girls face enormous pressures to post "hot" or sexualized photos of themselves online, and she adds that this pressure can make the Internet an unwelcoming environment.
"I think a lot of people are not aware of how the atmosphere has really changed in social situations ... in terms of how the girls are treated and how the boys behave," Sales says. "This is a kind of sexism and misogyny being played out in real time in this really extreme way."
On how males' and females' pictures differ on Tinder
I talked to an 18-year-old girl who is talking about looking at Tinder with her older brother and ... she said she was struck by the way in which the boys and men's pictures were very different than the girls'. Guys tend to have a picture like, I don't know, they're standing on a mountain looking like they've climbed the mountain, or they're holding a big fish or they're doing something manly, or in their car. ... But the girls' pictures ... tend to be very different; they tend to be a lot more sexualized.
This is a pressure on social media that goes back, for women and girls, a long time. ... I trace the origins back to a site called "Hot or Not" which came out in 2000. ... The whole idea of "hotness" has become such a factor in the lives of American girls, unfortunately, because according to many, many studies, including a really landmark report by the American Psychological Association in 2007, this has wide-ranging ramifications for girls' health and well-being, including studies that link this pressure to sexualize on all kinds of things like rising anxiety, depression, cutting, eating disorders. It's a thing that I don't think that boys have to deal with as much.
On boys asking girls for nude photos
I think the fact that so often we're talking about nudes and sexting is because kids are watching porn. There's multiple studies that say that they are. We know that they are. They're curious. They're going through puberty. They're watching porn. And yet, nobody really talks about it or talks about the fact that it has an effect on how they behave and what they think about sex and sexuality and how they deal with each other. And there's really no guidelines for girls about how to react to all of this...
Some 13-year-old girls in Florida and New Jersey both told me that if they didn't [send photos] they had been threatened with boys sending rumors about them, sending around a picture that actually wasn't them and saying it was them. I mean, there's a kind of thing in adult life that we know about called revenge porn, and that happens among kids as well, unfortunately.
It's very risky for girls to send nudes because when they do, if they chose to, those photos are not private. They can be shared and very often they are shared. I heard story after story of situations where girls had pictures of themselves sent around to groups of people. It has become such a normal thing to them.
On "slut pages"
A "slut page" is when someone, typically a boy, not 100 percent of the time, but mostly a boy or boys, will collect nude photos of girls in their school or in the area's schools and post them on a page. I've seen them on Facebook or Instagram. It looks like an amateur pornography site — it is an amateur pornography site, I would say — and it's underage girls and pictures that are sent to someone, very often that they think won't share them but who does. It's a nonconsensual sharing of these pictures, and sometimes without their knowledge.
I've talked to girls who found out about it through text. Suddenly their phone blows up and they find out, "Oh my god, you're on this page." I think it's very threatening because it's abuse of a certain kind and it's harassment, and it's very often not punished in any way, or even known by adults.
On how porn is affecting sex
It was through talking to girls that I started thinking about porn, and they really enlightened me about the effect that porn was having on their lives, because they would start describing to me interactions that they had with boys. For example, "Send me nudes," or a boy sending a nude picture of himself. ... These things that they're describing sound violent to me. They say, "[Boys] expect this, and they expect that, and they want you to do this, and they want you to do that." And these things, they're all the hallmarks of the most popular online porn.
There's different things that are sort of popularized in porn. Pornographers have found that they get more traffic, more clicks, more views, whatever, the more extreme that it is. That seems to be the trend that has happened in porn in the last decade or so, right? So there are certain acts or moves or behaviors, whatever, which are filtering their way into the sexual encounters of teenage girls and boys.