Safer Sexting: A Guide to Keeping Your Pics Private

I love sexting.  I love sending sexy pictures.  I love the confidence boost that comes from an enthusiastic response, knowing my partner is turned on by what they see.  I love getting sexts in return, and telling my partner all the things I want to do with them next time we meet.  It’s a fantastic way to get the rush of sexual connection when physical contact isn’t an option…or build anticipation for a future encounter.

Unfortunately, sexting can also be scary.  We hear about celebrities’ photos being hacked or leaked.  We read about revenge porn and worry about what happens our photos leave our control.  It’s easy to get caught up in the negativity and shaming.  I’ll admit that once upon a time, I couldn’t understand why anyone would even consider sexting.  Then I tried it, and I’ve never looked back.

Assorted censored sexting photos

Apparently, I’m not alone.  According to this survey, sexting is something most Americans do…and generally endorse afterward.  Sexting has been found to benefit relationships.  And it’s not just young adults, the AARP published a (mostly positive) article on sexting for its members.  So what can you do to keep sexting fun and safe?

The Prime Directive: Consent

The first, absolutely critical rule is that sexting requires consent. 1  Before you fire off that picture of whatever bits you’re looking to show off, make sure the other person is on board.  Do NOT bomb unsuspecting strangers, acquaintances or internet crushes with unsolicited nudity.

When I’m looking to heat things up with a potential sexting partner, I might open with a mildly suggestive selfie (in a low-cut top or short skirt, for example).  If that gets a positive reaction, then I’ll ask if they’d like to see more.  Texting that I’m getting into the shower, trying on a new bra, etc. also works as a lead-in.  In any case, I won’t proceed unless I get a clear, enthusiastic response.  Even someone who has seen me naked in person might not be comfortable having nudes pop up on their phone.  And besides getting clearance to start sexting, it’s good to check in before progressing from PG-13 to R-rated photos (or R to NC-17, or NC-17 to XXX…).

Consent rules also apply to how photos should be handled after the exchange.  Everyone should be clear on whether/how photos may be saved, or if they should be immediately deleted.  And of course, sexts should NEVER be shared without the sender’s permission.

Stay In Your Comfort Zone

Because there’s no way to guarantee with 100% certainty that your sexy photos will never be seen, you need to do a personal risk assessment when choosing what to include in your photos.  You might prefer to keep your face or other identifying features out of the shot, and that’s fine.  Or maybe you’re only comfortable sending photos through a “disappearing” photo app like Snapchat.  It’s not a bad idea to err on the side of caution while playing with a new partner, it takes time to build trust.

If you are pressured to share more than you are ready for, that’s a major red flag.  Ditto for “jokes” about sharing your pics with friends, or any behavior that gives you pause.  Trust your instincts and don’t hesitate to put things on pause or walk away if you need to.

Choosing Your Method

I prefer to sext in the “traditional” sense of the word, attaching pictures to a regular text message.  But I’ll also use Snapchat sometimes, or even share pics with a small group of friends on Slack. 2

I do like Snapchat because I can’t accidentally send things to my mom or my boss.  But some folks I want to sext don’t have a Snapchat account, and I do like the option to go back and look at pictures I received later (if my partner is OK with them being stored).  I’ve seen some other apps that are sext-friendly but only work on iPhones, so I can’t use those.  Texting is my default because it’s simple and works with almost anyone, every method has its pros and cons.

(If you’re looking for a dedicated app options and their relative security levels, you might want to check out this article.)

Minimizing Exposure

Some percentage of sexts will end up being seen by someone other than the intended recipient.  My greatest fear when sexting isn’t hacking, or photos being intentionally shared by my trusted partners…it’s good old human error.  Replying to the wrong message.  My partner’s phone being seen by someone else when my text pops up.  Accidentally revealing the photos stored on my phone.  So what can be done to prevent those kinds of slips?

Timing Is Everything

To manage the timing issue, you can establish rules (e.g. no sexts during the work day) or send a quick check-in text preceding any photos.  Personally, I feel a lot safer sexting when I know my partner has their phone in hand and is ready for what’s coming.  The alert message can be openly suggestive, but I like having a private code phrase that signals “SEXT AHOY!”.  That way, if someone else happens to have eyes on my partner’s phone (to take a picture, get GPS directions, just being nosy or whatever), the request looks perfectly innocent.

If I’m in a situation where receiving a sext would be very bad, I might mute notifications from my partner for awhile just to be safe.  There’s also the option of flipping your phone into airplane mode for a bit…thanks to @WetcoastKat for that tip!

Phone Security and Maintenance

Put a passcode or fingerprint lock on your phone to keep people from poking around on your phone.  For even more security, consider installing password protection on your photo gallery and sexting app of choice.  I have tried several of these apps, and my favorite so far is Norton App Lock.  It’s free, not full of spammy ads and easy to set up.  It also gives you the option to unlock an app for one use or until your phone goes to sleep.  That second option keeps the lock from being a hassle during a sexting session.

If your phone is set to back up photos online, you may want to turn off that feature when taking nudes.  And in case you forget, make sure that you have two-factor authentication set up on your backup account.  That way even if your password gets guessed or hacked, your photos can’t be accessed without the confirmation code sent to your phone.

Turn off location tags on your phone camera.  In the event that a photo does inadvertently make its way into the world, that will help keep it from being traced back to you.  Here’s how to turn this feature off on Android devices and iPhones. You can also download apps to strip identifying metadata (EXIF data like time, location, camera/phone model, etc.) from your photos before sending them.

Clear out your photo gallery and text messages after a sexting session.  You don’t want to be showing off pics of your kids or your newly remodeled kitchen and accidentally scroll to shots of your scantily clad self.  If there are particularly great photos that you want to keep in a secure location, photo vault apps are a great option.  I use an app called Keepsafe to store my NSFW selfies.  The app itself won’t open without a passcode, and individual albums within the app can be locked with a password for extra security.

 

Other Technique Tips

There are a few other rules I use to help prevent sexting slip-ups.  These aren’t technology related, but habits that have helped protect me from critical brain farts.

  • Don’t text/chat with other people while you’re in the middle of a sexting session.  Swapping back and forth between conversations increases the odds of a catastrophic mix-up.  Besides, sexting is more fun when you’re focused!
  • Double check that your message is only going to the intended recipient.  Between attaching the picture and hitting “send”, I’ve trained myself to take an extra half second to really look at where it’s going.  I also find that having pictures attached to my phone contacts helps keep things straight.
  • Yes, it sounds like fun to sext when you’ve had a few drinks.  But you’re also more likely to inadvertently send something where it doesn’t belong.  It’s probably best to put the phone down.

Like almost every enjoyable activity in life, sexting carries a degree of risk.  But if you use caution, common sense, and a few handy apps, it doesn’t have to be scary.  If you have sexting security tips to share, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section!

  1. I want to stress that for folks who are under 18, sexting carries significantly more risk than it does for adults.  Sending sexual pictures of an underage person, even consensual pictures or selfies, can get both the sender and recipient in serious legal trouble.  These laws may be ridiculous and unfair, but they shouldn’t be ignored.
  2. Which falls into the subcategory of “frexting“…I’ll cover that in depth another day.

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