ThrowbackThursday to when we talked about sexting safely. Because let’s be honest, it’s a thing and “just don’t do it” isn’t always the right answer for our particular lives. And perhaps more importantly, it isn’t always the fun and enjoyable answer. Besides, those sexy pictures you’re taking might not even be to share with anyone else. Maybe you just wanted to see how you looked in some lingerie you were trying on in a store or before a date. Maybe you’re tracking your fitness progress by snapping pics between workout and shower. Those nudes still exist in electron-land, and that means they’re still potentially vulnerable. So this advice applies to you too.
In a past age, lovers wrote romantic letters to each other or had steamy phone sex. In the 21st century, we send memes and sexts. Okay, maybe not all of us…but it’s certainly a feature of modern intimacy.
In a world where the phrase “revenge porn” even exists, sexting is fraught with danger beyond the simple embarassment or regret that can result from a failed relationship in general. The wider consequences can range from knowing that an intimate or revealing photograph or video is or could be floating around in the wild to having sexy texts and snapshots shared directly to friends, family, and employers.
I don’t believe the solution is “just don’t do it” though. Whether you’re staying connected with a committed partner, getting it quarantine-cyber-on with an exciting new person, or somewhere else on that spectrum, it’s only natural to use that smartphone attached to your hand as another part of connection with other human beings. Better, I think, to be smart about sexting.
Start by being picky about what platform you’re using. While sending regular text messages or using your standard social media messaging app are easy, they may not provide the kind of security you should have for sexting. Apps change quickly, so look for features like being able to prevent your messages from being forwarded, saved, or screencapped, or at least being told if they are. It’s possible to defeat all of these, but you want to make it harder to at least protect yourself from someone who isn’t willing to use a lot of effort to harm you. You’ll also want apps to be able to support features like these:
The app and device you use need to be secured, and so does your partner’s. You need to decide the level of risk you’re comfortable with, depending on things like who else has physical and virtual access to your phone (and it should go without saying, but don’t use a mobile device your employer has access to…), but at the most protective you want to be able to require a password, fingerprint, FaceID, or other form of authentication to get into the device itself, the app, and anywhere you might store photos or videos (which preferably should not include any cloud storage). And while it’s always good practice to not use the same password across multiple accounts, be especially careful with sensitive accounts that include your nudes.
Then ask your partner what they do. Think of it like talking about contraception or STDs if you were having physical sexual contact: is your partner willing to be as protective of your vulnerability in sending sexts as you are? It goes both ways.
That’s a big part of knowing who is on the other end. Putting aside sex workers performing for audiences for a moment, because what they need to do for safety is a bit different, you should consider what you know about your potential sexting partner before starting to send over intimate photos. Have you verified their identity? Do you have good reasons to trust them? You might, for instance, want to decide only to sext with those you have met or had an existing relationship in person with first.
After all that, be thoughtful about exactly what you send. Obviously, this isn’t a moment for only messaging out what you’d be comfortable with a parent figure seeing, but you can do things like keep distinguishing features out so that if a sext gets shared, you have plausible deniability that it’s even you. As part of that, pay attention to what’s in the background of your photos/video too, as well as any location data that might be embedded because of the app you’re using to take the photos/video or send them to your partner.
And finally, if it goes sour and your sexts make it out into the wild? First of all, remember that you should not be ashamed of having intimate moments and communications with another person. I know that’s really hard, and you might need therapy to work through it. That’s okay. Second, know that you may have real-world rights to file criminal charges, sue for copyright infringement, and demand that the photos and videos be taken down from websites they may have ended up on. The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and others can help.
Now then, it’s time for me to find my cell phone…