Taking and sending nudes should feel sexy, empowering, and most importantly, worry-free. Sadly, sharing a nude means risking the recipient showing your private pics to others without your consent, or even worse, posting them online. But just because sexting is risky doesn’t mean people will stop doing it, or that they should. One study found that over 80% of young American adults have sent or received an explicit message or photo.

Non-consensual nude-sharing is often called “revenge porn.” However, this term is a bit misleading. Nudes are not always shared to get back at the person who took them, and porn is, by definition, consensual. Nevertheless, about 1 in every 25 Americans has either been threatened with or been a victim of non-consensual nude sharing. The all-too-common narrative that people whose nudes are shared publicly are the ones to blame follows the same logic of slut-shaming and victim-blaming. To be clear, there is NOTHING wrong with sending or receiving consensual nudes. 

And the reality is that most people are going to keep sending nudes. Criticism that you shouldn’t send them in the first place isn’t very helpful or realistic. Discouraging people from expressing themselves sexually for fear that it will be used against them is actually incredibly backwards — it ends up demonizing the people taking nudes, and not the scumbags sharing them without consent. And just as abstinence-only education doesn’t stop people from having sex (or protect them from STIs and unwanted pregnancies), preaching against sending nudes doesn’t help anyone learn safer practices. 

It’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as 100% secure sexting, but there are definitely ways to lower the risk of your nudes ending up in the wrong hands. There are two main methods to protect your nudes: make them unsharable, or make them anonymous. And since screenshots make it impossible to make nudes completely unsharable, the next-best thing you can do is make them as anonymous as possible. Btw, if you’re under 18, don’t send photos or videos of yourself naked to anyone, under any circumstances. You or your partners can face legal consequences, including being prosecuted as a sex offender for distributing child pornography, even if you send nudes of yourself consensually. For those of us 18 and over, here’s what you need to know about safer nude sharing:

1. Establish rules with your partners 

While it certainly helps to only send nudes to partners you trust not to share them, that still doesn’t mean your nudes can’t get leaked. Talk to your partners about expectations and dealbreakers beforehand — how long images can be kept, where they can be stored, how they’re protected. It doesn’t have to be formal, you can simply say, “This is for your eyes only, no screenshots, please delete.” If they don’t agree to your terms, no sexy selfies for them!

2. Don’t automatically back up photos to cloud services  

If you use apps that automatically sync to a cloud-based library, your photos and videos don’t just live on your phone. This means that if any of your accounts linked to your cloud get hacked, someone has access to all of your photos. This feature is what hackers exploited to steal and release hundreds of celebrity nudes during the 2014 iCloud hack. If you use Flickr, Dropbox, WhatsApp, Google Photos, or iCloud Photo Library, prevent those services from auto-syncing your photo library before taking your nudes. Turn off syncing or go on airplane mode, send the nude, delete it, then re-enable backup. Trusting a cloud service means putting your nudes in the hands of a company that cannot guarantee their safety. 

Some people use personal cloud storage instead. A personal cloud isn’t necessarily more secure, but they’re much smaller and therefore less likely to be targeted by hackers. You can also control when that cloud is connected to the internet. When it’s not connected, hackers can’t gain access to it. You also have the option to control how your files are stored on your own cloud, so you could encrypt all your data before storing it.

3. Crop your face out 

A faceless photo is safer for an obvious reason: it’s harder to tell that it's you. Try not to include identifiable features like birthmarks, scars, tattoos, or piercings. It’s more secure to leave these out rather than blur them later, as it’s possible to recreate blurred portions of images. You can instead try covering them with Microsoft Paint or the built-in Markup tool in the iPhone Photos app. 

4. Remove the photo’s location data 

Photos taken with a phone, tablet, or digital camera store EXIF (exchangeable image file) data. This data includes GPS coordinates, your IP address, the date and time the photo was taken, the device ID, camera settings, and thumbnail image and description. Basically, it makes it really easy to tie a photo — even a faceless one — back to you. You can either turn off location services when you take photos, or remove the image file’s location data afterwards. You can remove location data on your computer or through apps like ViewExif, Photo Investigator, or Metadata Cut

5. Use a secure connection 

Always use a secure wireless network when sending nudes. Using a VPN (virtual private network) helps keep your web activity private by creating a temporary IP address and hiding your true IP address from any site you connect with. Never send nudes over public Wi-Fi, even if it’s password protected, because it’s too easy for hackers to intercept your messages.

6. Use apps with end-to-end encryption 

Instead of texting or Snapchat, use messaging apps that have end-to-end encryption, where only the people in conversation can see the messages. Apps that are fully encrypted prevent hackers from stealing your nudes. The free app Signal is one of the most trusted secure messaging apps by cybersecurity experts. Signal requires using your phone number, but there are workarounds. It might sound obvious, but don’t use your real name to set up an account. If you need to use an email address to create an account for a messaging service, create a new email address using ProtonMail. Other free apps like Privates and Bleep add another layer of security.

7. Save your nudes securely 

It’s best to delete your nudes immediately after you send them, but if you have some hot pics you’d like to hang on to, make sure you save them somewhere safe (and teach your partner how to as well). The safest option is to download the pic to an encrypted hard drive in a password-protected folder. When it comes to passwords, a password manager can help you keep track and auto-generate new ones. You can also store your photos in a secure app like Keepsafe Photo Vault.

8. Protect your phone 

If you are keeping nudes on your phone, or expect to receive any, it’s important to keep your phone itself secure. Add a passcode (and update it often) and turn message previews off. Establish a code with your partner to signal it’s safe to start sexting, for example an emoji or safe word. 

9. Watermark or copyright your nudes 

Some people have gotten more creative when it comes to dealing with non-consensual nude sharing. One solution is to watermark your nude with the name of the person you’re sending it to, so that if they ever leak you know who did it. Another solution is to pay to copyright your nudes so that if someone uses them without your permission, you can successfully sue them. To clarify, whenever you take a photo, that image is automatically copyrighted as yours. But it can be complicated to prove that you created an image without any third-party support. This is where copyrighting comes in — officially registering your images with the U.S. Copyright office makes it way easier to win a lawsuit and improves the chances of having your nudes removed from wherever they’re posted. However, copyright isn’t always the quickest or quietist way to punish the poster or get your nudes taken down. Copyright registration applications can take months to process, and copyright violation suits are public record. But if you have the time and money to copyright your nudes and pursue charges, you’re pretty much guaranteed legal consequences for people who violate your privacy.

10. Know your rights 

If your nude is shared without your permission, it’s important to know your rights. Non-consensual distribution of nude images is criminalized in most states, but laws vary from state to state. Even if it’s not against the law where you live, you can still file a police report. Non-consensually spreading images with the intent of emotionally harming someone can still qualify as harassment or stalking. The nonprofit Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) has a 24-hour hotline you can call for advice. 

Before you report anything, make sure to take screenshots as evidence for social media companies or law enforcement — screenshot any associated messages, comments and search results. If your nudes are being shared on a social media platform, you can contact the company directly. Every major platform including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, and Twitter have guidelines for how to report images that violate their terms of service. CCRI has a guide for reporting images. If you are overwhelmed, you can hire a takedown service to help remove images for you. CCRI recommends DMCA Defender and Copybyte.

Remember, no one has the right to share your nudes — it is sexual abuse, it is illegal, and it is never your fault. 

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