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Sex, Staying Safe Online

Sexting and sending nudes

‘Sexting’ refers to exchanging sexual messages, while ‘sending nudes’ means sending sexual images of yourself to someone else. Learn about the risks of sexting and sending nudes, and how to stay safe.

What is ‘sexting’? 

‘Sexting’ is a word used to describe exchanging sexual messages with someone, often using a mobile phone. The word is a mix of the words ‘sex’ and texting’, but can happen on a variety of digital platforms and devices. 

Sometimes people find it easier or less embarrassing to talk and share sexual ideas and feelings via text, email and instant messaging, as talking about sex and fantasies face-to-face can feel challenging. It can also feel like a fun way to flirt and build up sexual tension with someone.    

What does ‘sending nudes’ mean? 

‘Sending nudes’ specifically refers to the act of sending naked photos of yourself to someone else, but is used more broadly to mean sending photos of yourself which are sexually explicit including ‘semi-nudes’ or topless shots.  

Like with sexting, it can be a way of people flirting and engaging sexually with people digitally, whether or not they intend to be physically sexual with that person.  

Sending nudes and the law 

It is illegal to send naked images or videos of, or to, people under 18. This means that, if you are under 18, you should not be sending or receiving sexually explicit images even if you are in a sexual relationship with the other person/people. If you are over 18, it is illegal for you to receive sexually explicit photos of someone who is under 18.  

What if I’m sending images of myself to my partner? 

If you are under 18, any nudes or sexually explicit images you take of yourself will be considered Youth Produced Sexual Imagery (YPSI) and sharing them is illegal. This is the case even if it is with someone you are in a relationship with, you are having sex with and/or they are the same age as you. 

If you receive images and you think a child or young person may be being exploited, or if someone has sexual images of you and you are under 18, you should speak with a trusted adult or someone at an organisation like Childline or Brook.  

You can also report this to one of CEOP’s Child Protection Advisors or make a report to the Internet Watch Foundation. You can find out more about reporting indecent images here. 

Visit the Childline website or call them on 0800 1111.

Find your local Brook service.

You should never be pressured into doing or sending something you don’t want to, and this includes sexting or sending nudes. You should also never pressure someone into sending you sexual messages, or send them sexual messages without their consent. Read more about consent here. 

Think about if you really want to send sexts or nudes, or if you being pressured into it by someone. Do you feel like you need to because “everyone’s doing it” or because it will get someone to like you more? If you feel uncomfortable about the idea of sexting or sending nudes, or you just aren’t sure, then you don’t have to do it. 

It’s also important to remember that sexting isn’t a contract for further sexual behaviour. You may be enjoying exchanging sexual messages with someone and sharing in a fantasy with them, but this doesn’t mean you have to do anything else sexual with them, even if you are in a relationship. It is normal to want to flirt and express your sexual desires to someone without wanting to act on them in a physical way. 

If you are with someone who puts pressure on you to send sexual messages or images when you don’t want to, or sends you sexual messages or images without your consent, you could be in an abusive relationship. If you’re worried or want to find out more, visit our page on abusive relationships for more information and advice. 

Know the risks

There are a number of potential pitfalls or consequences linked to sending nudes, some of which may not seem obvious at the time.  

It’s important to know that once you send or upload an image or video, you lose all control over it. Everything you share could be sent to someone else or posted online and potentially seen by anyone, including your friends, family and total strangers. People can take screenshots and capture your image on their phone, even if you send a photo with a time limit. Those messages, images or video could potentially exist forever and could resurface when you least expect it. 

Whenever you are thinking of sending someone nudes you should consider: 

  • Can you be sure that the person you are sending photos to won’t show 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? Could someone see an 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? Remember: 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. 
  • Are you opening yourself up to unwanted attention from dangerous people on the internet? Sex offenders are often experts when it comes to finding these images and distributing them. 
  • Are you breaking the law? Sending nudes can feel harmless but receiving or sending sexually explicit pictures of a person under 18 is illegal, even if they were taken with their permission, and even if they are photos that they took of themselves. 

Intimate Image Abuse 

Intimate image abuse (also known as ‘revenge porn’) is when someone takes or shares an intimate image of someone else, with the intention to humiliate, intimidate, alarm or distress the person. It is never okay to do this, and is a violation of someone’s consent.  

If you are a victim of this, you don’t have to deal with it alone. You can speak to a trusted adult and/or contact Childline or Brook. You can also contact the Revenge Porn Helpline on their website or by calling 0345 6000 459. 

Visit the Childline website or call them on 0800 1111.
Find your local Brook service.

Seek help

There are laws in place to protect people who have had their naked pictures shared without consent and to protect those under 18 years old who have been asked to send sexual images of themselves. 
 
If you are affected by sexting or sending nudes, you can ask a trusted person for help, such as a teacher or parent/carer. You could also speak to someone at Brook, or at an organisation like CEOP or Childline.  

Visit the CEOP website

Visit the Childline website.

In some situations a school or another professional will have to report an incident to the police or social care. This does not mean that you will get in trouble. However, they only need to report the incident to the police if they are concerned about your safety or the safety of another child. Otherwise, it will be up to you if you want them to report it to the police. 

You may also decide that you want to report an incident involving nudes to the police. You can do this directly, or through your school, college, workplace or an organisation.  

Whoever you report an incident to, their priority is to keep you safe. The law is intended to protect children and young people, not to criminalise them unnecessarily. 

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