Sending sexy photos can be really fun, but it does come with increased risk of literal exposure.
Let’s be real: you’ve sexted. Your boo has sexted. Your mom has probably sexted! What’s more they have probably all sent a nude to someone. Pretty much everyone is doing it. Before the pandemic, Americans were sending 1.8 million nudes per day. So can you imagine what it’s like now after the pandemic moved so much of our intimate lives online? We’ll get to that in a minute.
First off, sending nudes is a topic for consenting adults. Period, end of discussion. But here’s the thing: Your nudes are a part of you; a very intimate part of you. And while you can share intimate parts of yourself with whomever you want, there are also things you can do to protect those photos from unwanted eyes.
We don’t have to tell you that there is a very big market for nudes. Of course, that goes back well before we started sending snaps to each other. But even if you trust the person receiving them, your nudes are out there, and they can be found. There’s even a term for having your nudes shared against your will: revenge porn.
With all of that in mind, here are seven questions to ask yourself before sending that sexy photo, according to the experts.
1. Did the person ask me to send them a nude?
First things first: Consent. A cardinal rule of sharing nudes is that you do not share them unless asked for them. This goes for any and all explicit or even suggestive imagery. If they didn’t ask? Don’t send! Stop reading right here! You don’t need the rest of this article because you’re not going to take or send a nude!
But if they did ask — and you’re both consenting adults, over the age of 18 — then take the following tips into consideration.
2. Is my face showing?
You can take a sexy photo — even a very explicit sexy photo — that doesn’t include your face. (And let’s throw “other identifiers” like tattoos and birthmarks in there, too.) Consider what body parts the person receiving the pics is into. Can you get them in there without showing identifying parts of you?
Another option, sex coach Dr. Lanae St. John tells Avast, is sending nudes that you’ve found online — with the caveat that they’re ones that you’ve paid for. (Don’t steal pics of someone else’s genitals. It’s just not polite.) That way, if the nude ends up in the hands or devices of someone who you didn’t intend to see them, it’s not your body anyway.
3. Does it have a watermark on it?
Dr. St. John has an ingenious move for protecting your nudes once they’ve left your possessions: Watermark them. You can use tools built right into your operating system or take advantage of free software to digitally stamp the name of the recipient onto your image. That way if things go sideways and they post it online or share it to anyone else, you’ll know exactly who was behind it.
4. How are the lighting and angle?
Some people are skilled at getting their best angles in photos and some just… aren’t. But it’s worth it to take the time to make sure your lighting is right and that you’re highlighting your best assets!
If you’re not super sure about your photography skills, sexologist Shan Boodram recommends throwing a filter over the end result. Something like “Paris” in Instagram does a nice job smoothing out everything that our high-res camera phones bring to the forefront. You know — the stuff that really maybe you’d prefer stayed in the dark.
Further reading: Make sure your phone is Safe For Scrollers (SFS), with Shan Boodram
5. How well do I know this person?
Sexting can escalate quickly online, especially if you’re talking to someone you’ve met on a dating app. In fact, according to our survey, 23% of Americans have exchanged nudes with someone they matched with on Tinder. And seven out of 10 of those times? They never met up in person.
Now, we’re all for consenting adults having sexy fun in any way that works for them. But the reality is that sending a nude to someone you don’t actually know anything about carries a higher level of risk than sending one, say, to your romantic partner of even a few months. That person has no reason outside of common human decency to treat your nudes with respect — and do you want to rely on that reason alone to protect yourself?
That’s not to say that romantic partners (current and former) can’t and won’t non-consensually share your nudes. That is, unfortunately, always a risk when adults choose to get sexy in this way. But hopefully you know your romantic partner better than you know that rando on Tinder and you can make an informed choice about how safe your pics are with them.
6. Does it have to be explicit?
Sexy photos don’t have to be explicit. In fact, they don’t even have to be nudes.
“I kind of look at sexting nowadays as having it be less about showing actual body parts and more like fan dancers,” Dr. St. John says. “Make them wait to get the real thing in person and just tease. Flirt. Use it to entice somebody to want more without putting yourself at risk.”
7. What’s the worst case scenario?
No one ever wants to believe that their pic will show up on a website or be emailed to their boss and family or become a viral meme. But all of those things have happened. And since there’s no way to 100% ensure that it won’t happen to you (aside from never sending a nude, which is absolutely an option), it’s worth considering how you’d feel about each particular nude ending up in the very wrong hands.
This is one reason why the tips above are really important. If you’re not identifiable or it’s not even actually your body or it’s not super explicit, then you’ll probably feel less crappy if the photo gets out. Will it feel great? Of course not. But it’s a good idea to practice harm reduction with this stuff.
Sending sexy photos can be really fun — that’s why so many people are doing it. But, as we’ve outlined here, it does come with increased risk of literal exposure. Be thoughtful, stay safe, and protect yourself both online and off.