Healthy lives for young people
Sex, Staying Safe Online

Sexting and selfies

‘Sexting’ is a word used to describe sending sexual messages and photos (referred to as ‘nude selfies’ or ‘nudes’), often using a mobile phone. Learn about the risks of sexting and how to stay safe. 

‘Sexting’ is a word used to describe sending sexual messages and photos (referred to as ‘nude selfies’ or ‘nudes’), 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 images via text, email and instant messaging, as talking about sex and fantasies face-to-face doesn’t always feel 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. Everything you share could be sent on or uploaded and potentially seen by anyone, including your friends and family, and total strangers. With apps like Snapchat people can take screenshots and capture your image on their phone. 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.

You should never be pressured into doing or sending something you don’t want to, and this includes sexting. 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 if you being pressured into it by someone. 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.

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 has links to organisations you can visit or talk to for more information and advice.

Top Tip

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.

Know the risks

There are a number of potential pitfalls or consequences linked to sexting, which may not seem obvious at the time. Whenever you are thinking of sexting someone you should consider:

  • 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 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? 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.
  • You could also be vulnerable to attracting unwanted attention from dangerous people on the internet. 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.

Seek Help

There are laws in place to protect people who have had their ‘sexts’ or ‘nudes’ shared without consent and also to protect those under 18 years old who have been asked to send sexual images of themselves.

If you are affected by sexting or nudes, you can ask a trusted person such as a teacher, parent or carer for help.

There are organisations who can help too, without judgement, such as the police, CEOP or ChildLine.

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