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Naked truth about boy-girl dealings

Perhaps you saw The Inquirer's story on the uproar at North Penn High School over the discovery that nude photographs of female students had been posted online without the girls' knowledge or consent.

Perhaps you saw The Inquirer's story on the uproar at North Penn High School over the discovery that nude photographs of female students had been posted online without the girls' knowledge or consent.

The girls had voluntarily texted or e-mailed naked selfies of themselves to their boyfriends. Then they were shocked - shocked! - that their privacy had been invaded and that an intimate memento of their affection had been betrayed by their former - one assumes - boyfriends.

The story included this reaction by a 17-year-old female student: "People are talking about it like it's [the girls'] fault, which is awful."

The story appeared the same morning I was teaching my English 101 writing class at Montgomery County Community College, which has hundreds of students who graduated from nearby North Penn High.

This semester we have talked frequently about the erosion of individual privacy in this digital age and the poor judgment demonstrated daily by young people who post inappropriate, lewd, drunken, sexist, racist, and criminally implicating photos and videos on their Facebook pages without any apparent concern for possible consequences by employers or by legal, institutional, educational, or parental authorities.

The textbook I use in class features essays with titles like "The Flip Side of Internet Fame" and "Should We Ditch the Idea of Privacy?" Almost weekly there is a national news story about the vengeful hammer of Thor coming down on a fraternity or student-athlete for a bone-headed video or tweet.

But rarely are these stories in the college's backyard. I passed around copies of the Inquirer article on North Penn and polled my students about the wisdom of and responsibility for texting naked selfies. Who does this? What are they thinking? By the end, I think I was the only one blushing.

Turns out several, many, or most of the students were both senders and recipients of these types of photos. They didn't have any problems with sharing such cyber intimacy.

"But what happens if you break up?" I asked.

One student told about an obscenity-laced rant she received from a former boyfriend's new girlfriend. The new girl had discovered a nude photo of the old girlfriend while thumbing through pictures on the boy's smartphone (the phone obviously being smarter than the boyfriend).

"What if your mother was looking through photos on your phone and found your boyfriend's naked picture?" I asked.

That hadn't happened, evidently, to any of the girls, who were much more willing to speak about it than the boys. I was a little dizzy thinking about how commonplace these photos must be in phones, sharing space with nieces and nephews, moms and dads.

I have male friends in their 30s and 40s who have shown me naked photos of women, in almost pornographic poses, who texted those pictures unsolicited, almost as a way of saying hi. One friend, who is a bartender in Center City, gets so many that it's annoying. And I have subsequently met some of these women in social situations. They are intelligent and attractive and have good jobs, but my friends have no interest.

One friend is a cop who married his high school sweetheart soon after her graduation from Archbishop Prendergast High School in Upper Darby because she was pregnant. They've been married 45 years. And I've never forgotten something he told me within a year of their wedding.

A Catholic high school buddy came up to him at the wedding reception, congratulated him, and said, "You know what the worst part of getting married is? Everyone knows that your wife does it."

The point being, technology may change, girls may change, but boys don't. You give a young man a naked photo of a girl and that young man is going to want to show it to other young men. I'm surprised that it has taken this long for a story like North Penn to make news. Young men are as dependable and as predictable as, well. . .

"What is the derogatory term that young men are called, but young men aren't offended by?" I asked the class.

"Dogs," said a male student.

Exactly. Boys will be boys. And girls have always known that. What has changed dramatically is the role girls used to have in house-training their boyfriends, with the equivalent of a leash or a rolled-up newspaper across the snout. "No!"

That may sound canine-ist, but it's true. At least true enough. Somewhere along the line, young women gave up the moral authority they once had over the young men they loved and who loved them. To paraphrase Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness at the end of The Untouchables: They have become what they beheld.

"Do you have any naked pictures of your boyfriend?"

"Sure, let me get my phone. I'll show you."