In today’s culture, sending intimate photos, commonly referred to as “nudes”, has become, if not commonplace, largely accepted. GQ stated in a 2018 article that over 40% of 18 to 24-year-olds find sending nudes totally normal, and it’s safe to assume more than that may have received some in the past, whether asked for or not. But what has caused the recent phenomenon of nude culture? And given the constant threats to our cyber security from every avenue, how can we ever feel secure that the photos we send are only seen by our intended audience?
In general, our generation is one of instant gratification. From next-day delivery to online streaming, we are used to getting what we want with very little wait time included. It makes sense that this attitude would carry over to dating and sexuality. Waiting to see someone in person and discover what’s going on underneath their clothes has become almost passé, and many people see sending a nude photo as a “preview” of what to expect. While this notion might stray a little from the romantic ideals many of us wish to be true, it’s not hugely surprising that a generation who grew up with the birth of the phrase “catfish” would want a little reassurance of what they’re getting into.
Of course, plenty of us send and receive nudes from people who have seen us, warts and all, many times. This can be a great way to create a bit of intimacy, especially if you’re in a long-distance relationship, or even if you just want to show a person that they’re on your mind. As we become more open about our sexuality, it follows that we will be more open with expressing it to each other, and so sending photos seems a natural progression of this.
As healthy and exciting as sending nudes can be, either in a relationship or to someone you’ve never met before, there is a very fine line where sending photos can be a dangerous thing. Many of us have been a victim of the much feared “unsolicited dick pic”, wherein a photo is sent to us with no request, and often when we really didn’t want one at all. This can put people in a very compromising position: what is the appropriate response when someone sends you a photo like that that you didn’t want? Do you ignore it, and get branded a bitch? Tell them you’re not interested in photos like that, and get branded a prude? Or do you go against your own emotions and pretend you enjoyed it, only to risk getting more, or being asked to send your own?
This leads me on to another dark aspect of the nude culture: when you’re not doing it for yourself. Although it doesn’t seem like it to a lot of people, sending an intimate photo of yourself to anyone is a sexual experience, and pressuring someone into doing it is just as inappropriate as pressuring someone into performing a sexual act they don’t want to. And much like that, people have developed ways to pressure you into doing things you may not want to do. Texting someone, “really just want to see you right now x” is the online equivalent of pushing someone’s hand towards your crotch when they’re clearly not interested in doing anything, or sliding your hand up someone’s leg repeatedly. It can put people in an incredibly difficult position. As nudes become normal in our society, people also come to expect them, and feel like they have the right to push for them. To be clear, no one ever has the right to push for a nude photo.
The next step in this escalation is when you do send a nude, and your privacy isn’t respected. In the vast majority of cases, a nude photo is only intended for one person – but for a depressing majority of us, that isn’t always respected. Since April 2015, “revenge porn” has been illegal, but stopping someone from showing a photo of you to their friends or putting it in a group chat is much more difficult to stop in reality – and for many of us, taking legal action against someone who is using images or videos against us can be too painful to consider, as it can draw more attention to an issue that is already less private than one might have hoped.
Sending photos of yourself can be fun, sexy, and extremely empowering: as long as it’s done in the right way. Even at 24, I’m still learning that I don’t need to do anything I don’t want to please the person I’m with, and I know that this can be a problem for a lot of people. Just like any other sexual encounter, if you’re safe, responsible, and happy, it can be a good time all around.