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Celebrity Sex Gone Viral

The culture of Hollywood’s rising social-media sex scandals

Rob Lowe won over audiences in flicks like Class and St. Elmo’s Fire, but in the late ’80s, the former Brat Packer’s infamous sex-tape scandal eclipsed his cinematic fame—and brought his reign as Hollywood heartthrob to a screeching halt. But while the public outing of Lowe’s privates was notable at the time, today he is just one of many stars who have been caught on camera in sexually explicit situations. From Vanessa Hudgens to The Twilight Saga: New Moon’s Ashley Greene, it seems that celebrities’ intimate photos and videos are always a click and a scroll away.

Technological advances have obviously contributed to the incidence and exploitation of this content—if Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s tryst had surfaced now, it would likely go straight to YouTube, not VHS, but according to Pamela C. Regan, PhD, professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and author of The Mating Game, the culture of social networking and video-sharing sites may also play a role in the increasing number of Hollywood viral sex scandals. “Now, with the proliferation of reality-TV shows and social-media websites, anyone can feel like a celebrity at any time—you can walk around with a Facebook or MySpace page and create a world where everyone can watch you,” says Regan. “And when it comes to communicating, it’s not about calling friends to talk at night; it’s about texting all day long and getting Twitter updates. It’s a much more instant, I’m-an-object way of living.”

This concurrent self-centered and outer-focused mentality may explain why when unleashed to the world, young actresses’ personal cell phones are packed with racy self portraits. “I wonder if there’s any shame in nude photos surfacing anymore,” says Regan. “Teenagers and twentysomethings of today are so used to being the focus of other people’s attention that things like having a scandalous online photo or inappropriate YouTube video might not be so traumatic. Because aside from a little personal embarrassment, it’s like ‘Oh, how cool—people know me.’ ”

In fact, conspiracy theorists presuppose that some celebrities may even want their sexcapades discovered and that they invite the attention and are willing to take the risk to be better recognized. Hudgens and Greene in particular have fueled blogosphere rumors of sex-photo publicity stunts, with pundits pointing to the uncanny timing of each star’s mishap: Hudgens’ nude cell-phone pics hit the Web a week before the release of her new movie, Bandslam (in theaters tomorrow), and Greene’s images have stolen headlines from New Moon front-runners Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, and Taylor Lautner.

Despite these Internet episodes, Regan doesn’t believe that young actresses are that calculating when it comes to their sex life. “I think so much of it is just them not thinking and being in the heat of the moment,” she says. “They’re surrounded by handlers all day who tell them that they’re superhuman, and as a result, they act impulsively.”

Sex and relationship expert Yvonne K. Fulbright, PhD, MS Ed., ACSE, agrees with Regan: “A number of starlets feel invincible, and many of them also don’t foresee that a hacker or soon-to-be-ex they’re dating might exploit them later.”

While it’s not always clear why or how celebrity sex photos and videos become viral, Regan says there are definite ways that celebrities should handle the onslaught of public attention. The first thing to do? Don’t deny that you took photos or made a sex tape if in fact you did: “Honesty really is the best policy because the proof is out there, and people have seen it,” says Regan. “That doesn’t mean you have to talk about it or go into salacious detail. Just admit that it happened and emphasize that it was a private moment.”

Fulbright also says it’s not necessary to apologize for your behavior: “There’s nothing wrong with the naked form and using it to turn on your lover. Sex photos and videos taken with your cell phone are the latest way to reach out and touch someone.” At the same time, though, Fulbright emphasizes the importance of feeling comfortable and trusting in your relationship. “Exes can be cruel when things don’t work out, and that’s whether you were with them for 11 weeks or 11 years. You need to weigh the pros and cons and decide if the risks are really worth the immediate titillation factor. You can also opt for less-risky turn-ons such as practicing more aural sex. There’s something to be said for the suggestive versus in-your-face images.”

For her part, Regan sides with comedian Dane Cook, whose playful scolding of Hudgens at Sunday’s Teen Choice awards (“Girl, you got to keep your clothes! Phones are for phone calls, girl”) was noticeably cut from the televised broadcast. “There is not a single person alive who has done something romantically, sexually, or interpersonally and not regretted it,” says Regan. “We all have that. But unfortunately we have a double standard in our society—sexually experienced men are seen as studs, whereas women are seen as sluts. So knowing that this exists, the best thing for young actresses to do is to just not do it.”

- By Emily Hebert | Elle