Ask Alex: Sext Etiquette and Revenge Porn

Ask Alex: Sexting and Revenge Porn

Is this the face of a man who would steer you wrong in the sexting advice department?

Note: I was going to not-so-cleverly entitle this post, “To Sext or Not to Sext” until I Googled said phrase and found that it is the title of a Season Two episode of 90210.  Also, I announced last week that this column will no longer will run on Fridays, because Fridays are for drinking the confusion away, not for seeking advice. So expect Ask Alex on the front end of the week from now on.

As you can already tell, this week’s question is about sexting:

I started dating a guy a couple of weeks ago and we have a good deal of sexual chemistry. He asked me to text him a naked picture of myself a couple of days ago and I am hesitant. Also, this isn’t the first time I have been asked to do this by someone I am seeing. Is this a thing now? Is this technically sexting? And if this is a thing, should I be considered an old person for not knowing that it is a thing? I am only 31, for Christ’s sake.

This is a thing, indeed, and yes, it is technically sexting. I don’t know if this means you are old, but based on recent statistics, your ignorance of the trend likely indicates that you are not a college student. According to a 2011 TIME Magazine article, 4 out of 5 college kids sext. A little over half have reported receiving explicit imagery (meaning the other sexts were likely sweet-talking exchanges like, “i want u 2 blow me” or “nice ( . ) ( . )” or whatever). But here’s where things get tricky. Almost a fifth of the people who received the racy messages then forwarded them onto somebody else.

One more time: 56% of college kids received an explicit image, and then 1 in 5 of said college kids forwarded the image to somebody else.

So yes, a lot of people do this, and a lot of those people forward said messages on.

Before you send the picture, keep that statistic in mind. I agree with the author of the TIME article, who wrote “Those statistics should be put on a label and stuck on cellphones everywhere.”

Various fallout related damages from sexting have been traumatic for those involved. For some young people, said fallout has led to suicide.  Further, if you are too young, the potential legal blow back complicates things even further. In some states, sexting by minors has been completely outlawed. Here in Maine, lawmakers are trying to adjust the laws so that young people who do sext don’t get legally treated like child predators.

Beyond that, the existence of people like Hunter Moore complicates things exponentially. Moore, the most hated man on the Internet, was the proprietor of Is Anyone Up?, a website that was devoted collecting revenge porn. In short, you send a photo / video sext to someone, that someone eventually turns out to be not-so-trustworthy, and they send that photo to this website. It is then posted and linked to identifying social media information, and site visitors are then free to both see you naked and and site visitors are then free to both see you naked and harass you.

After a selling Is Anyone Up? two years back, Moore told Betabeat his plans to  relaunch it under a new identity and to include a functionality which would link the photos and profiles to the physical address of the person pictured. Due to both pending legal action as well as an assault by the hacker collective Anonymous, Moore has not yet launched his site and has gone as far as to suggest that he doesn’t remember suggesting this, as he was “coked out and drunk” when he gave that interview.

That Betabeat article does a wonderful job of summing up that case, including detailing how revenge porn exists in a legal grey area. There isn’t much legal precedent in this area, making it even harder to pin down. The article also details the horrible scenario endured by one young woman who was featured on a revenge porn site, which led to her losing her job and feeling as though she were constantly at risk of being assaulted or raped. It highlights Without My Consent, a resource for those who find themselves in one of these situations. Finally, it quotes Marc Randazza, a copyright lawyer who is involved in several lawsuits against Moore, as saying, “Just from the perspective of not being a douche, any guy who meets anybody who runs one of these sites should punch them in the face. And if you do, I’ll represent you for free.”

And so yes, sexting is a thing. Like diamonds, though, the Internet is forever, and because some people are evil pieces of shit, the consequences are as complicated as they are plentiful.

This is not to say that being naked on the Internet isn’t okay. I know folks who make a living from being naked on the Internet, and you should really feel free to do whatever you are comfortable with doing. For some, confidently posting daring photos might serve as a positive means of sexual self exploration. As with many incidents of sexual assault, the core issue is not what you do, it is whether or not the other person seeks consent in taking liberty with your trust and boundaries. If you are someone who has been trusted with pictures of someone else, do not pass them on without the consent of the sender. This issue does not exist because people take naked pictures of themselves, but because for many the concept of consent is still willfully ignored.

Now that I have sucked all of the sexiness out of the concept of sexting, should you have weighed this advice and determined that you are down for whatever and/or the person you are sexting is trustworthy and/or everything is legal, I have pulled the following sexting etiquette from around the Internet for your consideration:

Via Modern Hussy:

  • “Always make sure you are sexting the right contact. Sending ‘I want u in my pants’ to your boss can result in trouble and  embarrassment.”

Via VICE:

  • “The most important thing to learn is don’t ever include your face in a sext message. Classic mistake. Holy cow. You might think that you and the person receiving the text are going to be together forever, but that’s stupid.”

Via Listen to Leon:

  • LOCK YOUR PHONE WHEN IT’S NOT IN USE!!! Not only does that keep people out of your business, it prevents ass dialing, which happens when you put your phone in your pocket and accidentally text message or call the same people 15 times in a row.
  • Be careful where you keep your homemade smut. A friend of mine who works in IT was telling me about a co-worker who had all kinds of home-grown freaky sex videos on his flash drive, and he’d plug it into his work computer where the IT department could see it… he got fired on top of everything else.

Good luck and happy sexting.

SUBMIT A QUANDARY/QUERY by emailing me at alexsteed [at] gmail [dot] com. In case you are cautiously interested, I will be keeping the identities of those in search of answers quiet in the column.

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Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.