Sexting and the politics of the image: when the invisible becomes visible in a consensus democracy

Sexting is a highly contested form of image production, particularly when it involves people under the age of 18. Adolescents who are legally prohibited from making pornography are deciding to generate and distribute new forms of sexual material. Public responses to sexting reveal that the dominant image of adolescent sexuality is maintained by heteronormative structures. The educational, legal and social action against sexting is aimed at protecting this dominant image. This article argues that sexting's visualization of age, race, class and gender ruptures ‘consensus democracy’ – the space of appearance of the people. This rupture occurs because adolescents have increasing access to the means of making and sharing their own images, entirely independently from the system that purports to speak for them. The impact of sexting goes beyond issues of adolescent sexuality; it raises fundamental questions that may redefine how representation relates to notions of the real and the body.