8 questions to ask yourself before sending that sexy photo

Emma McGowan 14 May 2024

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’ve probably all sent a nude to someone. Pretty much everyone’s doing it. In fact, 88% of American adults have stated being involved in some sexting activity at some point.  

But before we start, let’s make something crystal clear—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. 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 with anyone else, you’ll know exactly who was behind it. 

4. Do we turn on disappearing messages?

Use apps where you can set the messages to disappear after being viewed once to lessen the risk of someone saving your images, such as Instagram and WhatsApp. Instagram will notify you if someone screenshots any image you send with the ‘View once’ setting. On the other hand, WhatsApp actively blocks screenshots of images sent with the same setting, even if they don’t notify you if someone tried to save your nude.  

This can also be a chance to make it all more titillating. Once the hot image is gone, it’s gone. The receiver must savor each opportunity. 

5. 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

6. 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. Now, we’re all for consenting adults having sexy fun in any way that works for them. But the reality is sending a nude to someone you don’t 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. Unfortunately, there’s 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. 

7. 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.” 

8. 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. Unfortunately, all of those things have happened.  

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 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.  

Enjoy yourself, but take precautions 

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. 

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