Is sending a naked photo empowering or dangerous?
By El Barnes
Illustration by Anya Lee Temple
It can be an empowering experience: you’ve just bought some new underwear, or managed to gain/lose that weight you’ve been wanting to; you’re checking yourself out in the mirror; you take a picture so that you have photographic evidence that you really did that, and it’s saved in your phone as a reminder for those moments when you’re struggling with your self-esteem…but when someone else gets hold of that image, it becomes an entirely different situation with the potential to either amplify or demolish your newfound confidence.
With the rise of the ‘body confidence’ movement and the popularity of sex work/social media hybrids like OnlyFans and Snapchat premium, it’s no wonder that we have seen the increased normalisation of taking and sending nudes. I think it’s great that women are falling more in love with their bodies – it's so important to feel comfortable in your own skin, the confidence that comes from this seeps into every aspect of life. It would be archaic to suggest that pictures of our naked bodies, therefore, carry only sexual implications. There is so much potential within every naked body that goes beyond its sex appeal: nudes can demonstrate athletic prowess; artistic ability; beauty in its most organic form.
Where taking a nude can be an act of artistic expression, or pure self-expression, sending it is often – for the recipient, at least – a sexual act, and therefore carries different implications. This can be the case even when the actual sending of the nude was free from sexual denotations: if the sender has an OnlyFans/Snapchat premium account, although they are likely aware that there is a sexual element to the situation, it is typically entirely on the part of the recipient. It can also be the case when the nude has been taken and sent purely as an act of non-sexual expression, to a friend, for example, but has been received sexually. This is where the darker side of sending nudes comes into play: although the act itself can feel like one of complete control over our bodies and our sexuality, one thing we will never be in control of is how they are received and handled by those we send them to.
Could it, then, perhaps be a bad thing that sending nudes has become so normalised?
Is it actually putting us out of touch with the potential dangers of being so sexually liberated? Revenge porn – that is, the sharing of sexually explicit images without the subject’s consent online, publicly or privately, even over text – was criminalised in April 2015, with a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and a fine. The BBC found that in the eight months from the new law’s inception until December 2015, there were 1,160 reports of revenge porn made to the police in England and Wales.
30% of the victims were under 19, and three as young as 11. Obviously with someone so young it would be sensible to assume some form of grooming has taken place, but it’s important to note that even though the age of consent in the UK is 16, anyone under the age of 18 is legally classed as a child. That means if you’re sending nudes and you’re under 18, both you and the person(s) you’re sending them to are committing a crime, which is something I wasn’t aware of when I was 16 and sending nudes for the first time.
You might read all this and think you’re safe; it’s enough to deter anyone from sharing your nudes without your consent. But in that eight month period where over 1000 incidents of revenge porn were reported, 61% of cases resulted in absolutely no legal action being taken against the alleged perpetrator. Unfortunately it would seem that although the government is saying all the right things to make you feel protected, once you’ve sent that picture you’re actually on your own, and I know from experience that having your nudes shared without your consent is isolating enough as it is.
I’ve experienced both the positive and negative aspects to sending nudes.
I think one of the reasons this is such a difficult topic to talk about is that the aftermath of what may have only been a two-minute timeout from your routine can leave you feeling either on top of the world or completely worthless: there is no in between. When I send them to my current boyfriend it’s a full-on photoshoot: pictures, videos, the lot. I know I look good and even though it happens a few times a week I get the same level of enthusiasm each time – every single time is ‘[my] best work yet’ – and although I don’t need to be praised like that in order to feel beautiful, it definitely helps... On top of that, I know I can trust him. Even if things were to go sour between us, I know with absolute certainty that he would never send my nudes to anyone else. For that reason, even though I believe that sex in all its forms can be an entirely physical exchange, when I’m working those angles for him and getting that positive feedback, although it’s fun and playful it feels more than just physical; it brings us closer together, and boosts my confidence tenfold.
In contrast, in the past I’ve sent nudes on demand to boys I’d barely spoken to in person, just because I wanted to impress them and stay up-to-speed with what I thought everyone else was doing. I was only 16/17 and didn’t really think about the potential consequences of what I was doing. There’s a reason it’s illegal if the subject is under 18, you know? It’s not a mistake I made only when I was younger, though: when I got older, I sent them to boyfriends who treated me badly – and I think even sometimes because they treated me badly, as though I craved their approval.
You absolutely don’t need to be in a relationship with someone you send nudes to, or even know them personally at all; but if someone is actively treating you badly then no way should they be awarded the privilege of seeing you naked. I don’t want to victim blame at all, which is a further reason that this topic is such a difficult one to discuss. It’s difficult to properly illustrate the balance between being aware of the potential consequences of sending nudes and being aware that should those consequences arise the fault lies entirely with the perpetrator. I do feel, though, that if I came across some of the people I sent nudes to when I was younger, I would know not to do so now, and whilst that doesn’t mean it was my fault my nudes were leaked, or my fault they ended up in the hands of someone who probably didn’t deserve them, it does mean I’m acutely aware of the things I wish I’d done differently.
All in all, sending nudes can be a mutual exchange of appreciation; an act of expression; a means for gratification, and a wealth of other things that extend beyond that. It can be artistic, emotional, and sexual. It can be an empowering experience that leaves you feeling all the way in love with yourself. I think it’s amazing that girls are taking to sites like OnlyFans to take control of their sexuality and that more and more people feel comfortable sending nudes because all that tells me is that there’s an abundance of self-love in the air and I’m here for it.
Regardless of the circumstances, though, sending nudes should only happen when the subject is over 18 and completely willing to partake. If you’re the kind of person who pressures people into sending nudes, or shares someone’s nudes without their consent, you’re a piece of shit and that’s really all there is to it.
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