One young woman is warning others about the harmful effects of criminalizing and stigmatizing teenage sexuality – and she would know, because she used to strip on camera for her classmates when she was 13.
Alanna McArdle, now 28, wrote in an essay for that she felt confident with her sexuality when she was a teenage ‘camgirl’ in her hometown of London – that is, until one of the boys she stripped for told his mother and her world came crumbling down.
Now, she’s worried about the harsh message being sent to teenagers who engage in sexual activity – especially those who are being charged with sex crimes for sending nude photos to their peers. Because while she, luckily, never got a criminal record for her sexual exploits when she was underage, she does know what it feels like to suffer unfairly for being sexual as a teen.
Not fair: Alanna McArdle, 28, said she used to strip for her classmates on her webcam – and was treated as a pariah when people found out
Alanna started exploring her sexuality from a young age. She said she experimented with kissing her classmates in school bathrooms at age seven, eventually progressed to masturbating, and first discovered porn – through an internet pop-up ad – not much later.
For her thirteenth birthday, she begged her parents for her own computer equipped with a webcam. Her parents got her one, not realizing that she would do anything more with it than chat with her friends.
The friends she used it to chat with, though, were all boys. She said that for about a year when she was 13, she ‘had an arrangement’ with five or six of them, which involved her logging on to MSN Messenger immediately after school.
When one of the boys would log on as well, she’d happily oblige when they would ask her to strip for them, ‘sometimes half-naked, sometimes completely’, for about ten minutes. After finishing with one boy, she’d move on to the next. There was a time that a classmate asked her to take it a step further, masturbating for him on camera – but she confidently refused.
Judgemental: She said she didn’t feel pressured to strip for her classmates; she did it because she liked it, and it was only the consequences she faced later that had a negative impact on her
‘When I think back on my camming days, I remember being at peace with myself,’ she said. ‘I wanted to be sexual. I chose to engage in sexual activity. To me, stripping on webcam wasn’t just an informed choice that I made, but one that was affirmed by informed consent.’
But after a ‘blissful year’ of the after-school routine, her life ‘flipped on its head’ when one of the boys that she stripped for told his mother. From there, her parents, her other classmates, and her teachers all found out about her extracurricular activities – which made the first day of ninth grade a nightmare.
She was scolded by her parents, who also took away and read her diary, kept her under constant surveillance, and enacted a strict curfew. Her friends cut off contact with her anymore because of her ‘disgusting’ behavior, and her teachers and peers all conveyed to her that what she had done was bad.
This reaction was in stark contrast to that which the boys who participated in her webcam sessions received. While she was a ‘pariah’, who was offered no guidance or comfort, they were treated like heroes. Naturally, that led years of low-self-esteem, which resulted in self-harm, body dysmorphia, and disordered eating.
Sexism: Though she was ostracized by her classmates, Alanna said the boys who participated were given slaps on the back by friends
‘I had been a confident and precocious child, but suddenly I questioned everything about myself,’ she said. ‘I didn’t know whether what I’d done was OK; I didn’t know if the sexual feelings and the enjoyment I got from it were OK, either. The boys around me were expected to be sexual. But my own desires and enjoyment? They were unacceptable.’
Despite her ordeal, though, Alanna feels lucky that she didn’t face legal repercussions, especially in light of recent cases that have seen teens in the UK and the US prosecuted for sexting with their peers.
She said that it’s a problem that the legal thinking in the UK, like that in the US, is that ‘children’ – that is, anyone under the legal age of consent – can’t make informed decisions regarding sex.
She cited the story of a 14-year-old boy from who was added to the police database for at least a decade after sending a naked photo of himself to a female classmate on Snapchat – something potential employers could see when he applies for jobs in a few years.
Not OK: Though she feels lucky that she didn’t face legal repercussions, she doesn’t feel lucky that she was treated so unfairly
In , a boy was arrested for sending nude photos to his 16-year-old girlfriend when he was also 16. He was listed as both a victim – as a minor whose nude photos were distributed – and a culprit – as the adult who distributed them.
A teen girl in was also arrested last month for possession of child pornography. She had send a nude photo of herself to another teenager.
Alanna admitted that it might be tricky to create effective laws that punish pedophiles but don’t victimize teenagers who are simply experimenting – but that doesn’t make it any less important.
‘No child should face the consequences I did, let alone land a criminal record for it,’ she said. ‘You can’t stop teenagers from experimenting, whether it’s via sexts or on webcam. Until we do, we should focus on helping kids be safer and more supported if they do choose to engage in sexual activity, online and offline.’