Sexting.  The term was defined by the court in United States v. Broxmeyer (2010) as the exchange of sexually explicit text messages, including photographs, via cell phone. However, Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary claims the first known use of the word was in 2007.

Needless to say, sexting isn’t new–so why is it taking the world so long to accept sexting as an act of consensual sexual expression? More importantly: why are women the ones bearing the brunt of the shame?

In 2014, a number of women celebrities had their cell phones hacked, and their self-taken nude photos exposed to the internet. The torrent of victim-blaming and slut-shaming that followed was enough to make any woman second guess sexting for herself.

New York Times tech columnist Nick Bilton tweeted, “Put together a list of tips for celebs after latest leaks: 1. Don’t take nude selfies 2. Don’t take nude selfies 3. Don’t take nude selfies.” Ricky Gervais made a similar joke on Twitter: “Celebrities, make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer.” Clay Aiken told the Washington Post, “Anybody who takes inappropriate pictures of themselves deserves exactly what they get.”

The stars affected by the recent mass leak of nude photos aren’t the first to be publicly shamed for their choices of sexual expression.

In 2007, Disney’s High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens fell victim to a similar trauma. Disney’s response? They chalked it up to a “lapse in judgment” by Hudgens, adding that they “hope she’s learned a valuable lesson.” The notion that sexting is wrong, and these women should never have done so in the first place removes the blame for the heinous crime of exploiting these photos from the hacker and instead places the shame on the women. The idea that these women behaved themselves inappropriately, and therefore deserve the humiliation they received is patronizing, and misogynistic.

What’s most unfortunate about the association of sexting with embarrassing behavior, is the sense of disgrace and disgust internalized by women who sext. We cannot ignore the gendered implications of these media bashings. The explicit message sent to women who sext is that they should not express their sexuality through any technological means. This attitude is part of a universal context in which women are denied their sexual agency, and their related behaviors are demeaned, criticized, and demoralized. These ideas manifest in women’s sense of dignity, ultimately leading women to feel as though they’ve done something wrong. If exposed, women feel required to defend their actions, but not their sexual agency.

Jennifer Lawrence, one of the stars most notably affected by the recent leak, told Vanity Fair, “I was in a loving, healthy, great relationship for four years. It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you.” Here, Lawrence, like so many other women, feels compelled to create an excuse for her behavior. Mary E. Winstead, another celebrity who had her privacy violated, tweeted “To those of you looking at photos I took with my husband years ago in the privacy of our home, hope you feel great about yourselves.” Winstead, here felt the need to highlight the fact that these photos are old, as if to say that she’s learned better since then. Vanessa Hudgens opted not to defend her actions and, instead, simply accepted the shame placed on her by the public. She issued an apology: “I am embarrassed over this situation and regret having ever taken these photos.”

Women should never need to defend their choices of sexual expression.  They shouldn’t have to explain themselves or their actions. The women affected by the hacking didn’t need to speak out at all. But they did, and it was so important that their voices were heard.

Although any type of conversation takes place between two or more parties, the parties most often penalized for partaking in a sexting conversation are women. Men are rarely shamed for sexting. Roxane Gay wrote, in an article for The Guardian, “The further away you are from living as a white, heterosexual, middle-class man, the less privacy you enjoy.” A woman’s choice of sexual expression never belongs to her. It is always the decision of the patriarchal society around her. So if a woman and a man involve themselves in a sexting conversation, and someone else becomes aware of it, the woman’s behavior is criticized. This criticism is often referred to as “slut shaming,” or, as described earlier, denying women their right to sexual agency.

There are, of course, documented cases in which men received incredibly negative attention for their sexting conversations, after having their privacy exposed to the media. Anthony Weiner was infamously thrust out of politics after enduring two instances of sexting photo leaks to the internet. However, right alongside with Weiner were “Weiner’s Women,” receiving a rivaling amount of negative attention. The women with whom Weiner engaged in sexual texting conversations were shamed by major media sources such as Fox News. Even the New York Times published an op ed, written by Susan Jacoby, demeaning the women’s behavior.

These media messages aimed at women who sext are intended to remind us that women cannot be sexual however and whenever they please. As Gay says, “We are never allowed to forget how the rules are different (for) girls.”

It’s not a shame that women sext; it’s a shame that in the year 2015, people are still offended that women dare to express themselves sexually.

“Don’t pretend like you haven’t sent nude pictures of yourself to someone you feel comfortable sharing with,” tweeted Alyssa Milano, another victim to the photo leak in 2014.

Regardless of the sexist and biased connotations of sexting, the morality of the activity in general remains in question, which is strange, considering it is the same sort of behavior one would normally partake in, were the conversation or exchange a face to face experience. If you would share your body with someone behind closed doors, what reason do you have to feel ashamed of doing the same via text?

Society vilifies sexually explicit conversations via text messaging, deeming the act to be deviant or perverted behavior. However, sexting, when not exploited by oppressors, is not the social evil that it is considered to be. In an age when most of our lives have distended to include the digital realm, it should be completely understandable that sexting is now a normal part of sexual expression.