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You Asked It: Nude Nerves

My boyfriend and I don’t feel ready to have sex, but lately he’s been asking me to send him naked selfies. I trust him, but I’m not sure. What should I do?

Great question! While sexting doesn’t carry the same STI or pregnancy risks as in-person action, it can still leave you very exposed. You’re right to think hard before sending that text. Once an image leaves your phone, it is out of your control. And although people have loved capturing the naked form since before cameras were invented—walk through any art museum for proof—the advent of the digital age means that your private photos can get passed around with a speed that you could have never intended or imagined. Because we live in a society that has a complex and unhealthy relationship with sexuality and sexual imagery, this can, unfortunately, have real consequences on your social and professional life.

Pressuring your partner to send provocative photos is never, ever okay. If you say “no” to your boyfriend, he needs to respect that and not ask again. But even if you’re into the idea, think through some potential outcomes before hitting “send.” We’ve all heard horror stories about young people, including high-profile celebrities, who have had naked photos shared without their consent. Think about how you would feel and what you would do in that situation. It’s also important to consider your relationship with your boyfriend. Are you planning to exchange pics, or are you just making yourself vulnerable for his pleasure? How does he react when you say “no”? What will happen if you guys fight or break up? Having your intimate photos in his possession gives him a lot of power, and you need to be sure he’s worthy of it.

And no matter how much you trust your partner, there are a lot of other variables that you should consider when deciding whether to send that pic. What if you lose your phone and someone jailbreaks it? What if your iCloud gets hacked? Unfortunately, a very private photo can have a very public impact on your personal and professional life if it falls into the wrong hands. And this should go without saying, but consent is always a two way street. Sending an unwanted nude pic is more than just bad manners—it’s sexual harassment.

There are also complex legal aspects to naked selfies, especially if you’re a minor (meaning that you’re under 18 years old, and not a legal adult). In many states, minors can be prosecuted under child pornography laws for taking and distributing explicit materials—aka, Snapping your boobs to your BF. And if your BF Snaps your boobs to all his friends, you can all face felony charges—even if you intended the photos for his eyes only.

Like any kind of physical, sexual, or emotional intimacy, sending photos of yourself makes you vulnerable. It’s possible for all of those different types of intimacy and vulnerability to be part of a healthy and nourishing relationship. It’s great to feel proud of your body, and sharing yourself with a safe and committed partner can be an empowering expression of your sexuality. But any type of vulnerability involves risk, and the risks of this particular type of sharing can extend further than just you and your partner. It’s not fair that people face such dire consequences for possessing and expressing their bodies and sexualities. However, it is a reality that you should think through before pressing “send.”

At the end of the day, it’s your body, your image, and your decision. Here are some ways to minimize the risk that your pics will be seen by eyes other than your partner’s. If you do decide to send photos, we do recommend working your angles in ways that you can’t be easily identified. Leave your face out of your nudes—or send a pic of just your face instead!

ABOUT YOU ASKED IT

You’ve got questions.  We’ve got answers. At the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, we answer a lot of questions. Topics range from nutrition to pregnancy prevention, and everything in between. Now, we’re bringing these questions back to you with our new weekly advice column, You Asked It. Got a question? Holler at us in the comments, send us a message on Facebook or Twitter, or email us at teenhealthcareorg@gmail.com.

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