Rise of the sexy selfie

Why the racy selfie epidemic is not necessarily damning evidence of the out-of-control narcissism of Gen Y.

Long before I became a sex therapist, I was an erotic photographer. I’d wait anxiously for film to be developed and breathe a sigh of relief when the images worked out. However, nowadays, smart phones with good quality cameras give us instant gratification; we can take pics of ourselves (aka ‘selfies’) and share them instantly with hundreds, or even thousands, of people on social media.

The selfie trend has taken off in a big way, and as a result hysterical news reports abound about the negative effects of selfies and the new “selfish” generation. However, I don’t agree with pathologising new technology with terms like “addictions” and “narcissism.” These are serious clinical diagnoses that are overused and bandied about.

Like any new technology there is a fear involved, but humans have recorded our image since the very first cave art. Improved technologies made mirrors more accessible during the Renaissance, which enabled artists like Rembrandt to explore self portraits their entire lives. Now self portraiture is available to everyone, not just the elite or the skilled.

Sexy selfies can be empowering and a fun exploration into your sexuality. Selfies have helped my clients explore their gender identity or sexual orientation. Others have used selfies as a visual documentary of their transgender journey. As an art therapist, I’ve witnessed how the process of creating something, whether a drawing, sculpture or photo, can be cathartic and healing.

Furthermore, selfies are taken by regular people – real people with real bodies documenting themselves. The millions of selfies out there now outnumber the manufactured glossy images of unattainable beauty. The snapshot aesthetic normalises less-than-perfect beauty and real shapes.

Building a healthy sexual self esteem is often about purging sexual shame and negativity. Criticising women for posting too sexy selfies reflects a problematic sexual double standard. Judging what is acceptable or not acceptable for a woman in terms of constructing her own image is dangerous. For that woman it might be an important visual essay of their life, a way of connecting with friends or experimenting with her sexual identity.

Selfies can also be an empowering way to reclaim our own image. We are in control, we apply the filters, we delete what we don’t like. I won’t hop on the ‘sex police’ bandwagon and shame or judge people for expressing their sexuality or showing their body in ways they like. I won’t shame a politician for sending ‘sexties’ that are not seen as sexually ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable.’

If you do feel like your selfie-taking is out of control, then seek professional help, but if not, viva la selfie! I’m embracing sexy selfies and their ability to document the vast tapestry of human sexuality in all its diversity.

Words: Cat O Dowd, Sex Therapist and Relationships Counsellor. For more info email cat@creativesexpression.com or visit www.creativesexpression.com.

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