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Sexting and selfies

It’s easy to work out where the expression ‘sexting’ comes from, it’s just the words “sex” and “texting” stuck together. ‘Sexting’ is a word used to describe swapping sexual messages and photos (referred to as 'nude selfies' or 'nudes'), often using a mobile phone.

Lots of people find it easier or less embarrassing to talk and share images via text, email and instant messaging, as talking about sex and fantasies face-to-face isn’t always that easy (or sexy!). 

But it’s important to know that once you send or upload an image or video, you lose all control over it. Even if you use apps like Snapchat, everything you share could be sent on or uploaded and potentially seen by anyone, including your friends and family, and total strangers. With Snapchat people can also take screenshots and capture your image on their phone. And what's more, those messages, images or video could potentially exist forever and could resurface when you least expect it, such as when applying for a job or for university.

Top tips

Think before you press ‘send’. Would you be happy for all of your class, or your partner’s friends, to see what you’re about to text?  Even if you are happy in your relationship now and trust the person you are texting, things can change.

There are a number of potential pitfalls or consequences linked to sexting, which may not seem obvious at the time, such as:

  • If you are in a relationship with the person you are sexting with, and you break up, can you be sure that they won’t send your sexts to their friends or post them publicly online?
  • Is the phone being used by the person you’re sexting 100% secure at all times or is there a chance that someone else might unlock their phone and find your messages? Also, could someone see the image on their phone over their shoulder?
  • If you meet someone online and decide to start sexting with them, are you absolutely sure they are who they say they are? It’s easy to pretend to be someone you are not online
  • Could you be putting yourself at risk of blackmail or bullying? If someone has private images of you or messages from you, they could use them against you in the worst possible ways
  • You could also be vulnerable to attracting unwanted attention from the darkest side of the web. Sex offenders, for example, are often experts when it comes to finding these images and distributing them
  • Are you breaking the law? Sexting can feel harmless but receiving or sending indecent pictures of a person under 18 is illegal, even if they were taken with their permission
  • Are you sure you really want to send sexts, or are you being pressured into it by someone? Or do you feel like you need to because "everyone’s doing it”?  If you feel uncomfortable about the idea of sexting, or you just aren’t sure - you don’t have to do it

It is important to remember that it is your choice. You should never be pressured into doing or sending something you don’t want to.

If you are with someone who puts pressure on you to send sexual messages, but you don’t want to, you could be in an abusive relationship. If you’re worried or want to find out more, visit our page on abusive relationships which describes the signs that you're in an abusive relationship and which links to organisations you can visit or talk to for more information and advice.

Page last reviewed: March 2016
Next review due: March 2017