Kids. They're always a step ahead of us aren’t they? For example, many have learned that sharing sexually-explicit photos and/or language (sexting) can get them into a boatload of trouble. So what do they do? They come up with workarounds, of course. In this case, the workaround is using emojis to talk about sex.
Emojis—tiny, emotive characters—allow for visual communication via text, social media apps, and more. They are the modern-day descendants of this fellow (remember him?):
Today, fully 92% of us use emojis to communicate how we are feeling online 🥰 ☹️ 🥶
Kids are incredibly creative with emojis. Sometimes they even use them to communicate different things on different platforms. Take the innocent avocado 🥑, for example. Used in a text, it can simply mean "eating an avocado," but on Snapchat, it refers to being the "better half" of a couple in a romantic relationship.
Some teens use emojis to talk about sex thinking that, a) snooping adults will have no idea what they are talking about (probably right!), or b) it is a harmless way to communicate with their peers about sex.
While the "sexy" emojis that teens use change as quickly as the seasons of the year, following is a short guide to some of the more popular ones being used at the moment.
🍆 While you see this as a harmless vegetable, kids see it as a stand-in for a certain male body part. Need we say more?
🍒 These accompany the body part above.
🍑 Think Kardashian. This emoji is sometimes used to communicate, well, booty.
🌮 Female body part.
🐪 I want to "hump" you.
Emojis like these are often combined with other emojis to communicate certain sex acts. For example,
🍆 + 👅 Oral sex for him.
🌮 + 👅 Oral sex for her.
🍆 + 👋 Hand job.
By the way, while Facebook permits fake political ads, it will sometimes forbid the use of the eggplant, peach, and water drip emojis together. They are looking out for society's well-being after all 🙃 (the upside-down face is used to convey sarcasm, btw).
What's a Parent To Do?
While it's nearly impossible to stay up to speed on teen lingo, emoji or otherwise, it is possible, and important, to keep an open door of communication with your kids. Be curious about what they're doing online. If you see them texting, ask who they are talking to and/or what they are communicating about. If this doesn't come out of left field (i.e., you've already made it a practice to talk to them about everything they do, online and off), chances are, you'll find an open door of communication awaiting you.
Also, keep in mind that:
Receiving unwanted sexy emojis is pressure many teens are unprepared for or do not welcome. Be sure they know that even seemingly harmless emojis, when used to signify sex, can be considered sexual harassment. There can be potential legal consequences for sexual harassment, emojis included.
If your teens are receiving unwanted sexy emojis, be sure they know what they can do. Tell them they can block the sender. They can also report the behavior to the platform where it takes place and/or to local authorities.
Talk to your teens about standing up for themselves if they ever feel like they are being sexually harassed.
Be sure your teens know that while one party might find sexy emojis funny, another might feel uncomfortable with this type of online communication.
Above all, don't freak out. While it can be unsettling to discover that your teens' text messages contain emojis that signify sex acts, remember that teens have been curious about sex long before there were cellphones. Consider this your wakeup call to be interested in everything your teen does online (and off!).
To learn more, visit Emojipedia.
Diana Graber is the author of "Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology" (HarperCollins Leadership, 2019) and the founder of Cyber Civics and Cyberwise. You can learn more at www.dianagraber.com or tweet at her @dianagraber.