This article originally appeared on VICE India
A decade or so ago, safe sex meant slapping on a condom and making sure you got yourself regularly tested. But as time and technology evolved, so did sexual behaviour.
We live in an age where memes make up for making out, #nelfies are the new substitutes for selfies, and all the serenading stays on social media. So given that most of the relationship back and forth happens on dating apps or social media, it’s not surprising that sexting, or sending out suggestive, dirty messages meant to arouse another person, has emerged as an essential aspect of online dating. But while the internet has opened up our options like never before, it all comes with an undeclared list of terms and conditions. This basically means you can never be sure about the privacy of your private parts. One day you’re sending a harmless nude to a guy you’re into and the next thing you know, it’s all over some shady subreddit for all the world to see.
But as risky as the internet can be, no warning label is enough to deter young people from indulging in the act of sexting, because telling a teenager they can’t do something usually only pushes them to do it more voraciously. So, two researchers from the Florida Atlantic University and University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire came together to create a guide on sexting safely.
"We need to move beyond abstinence-only, fear-based sexting education or, worse yet, no education at all. Instead, we should give students the knowledge they need to make informed decisions when being intimate with others, something even they acknowledge is needed," states Sameer Hinduja, the study co-author, and a criminology and criminal justice professor who is also a co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. In a paper published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, Hinduja and co-author Justin Patchin, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, detail strategies that could reduce the risks involved.
Don’t send photos with identifiable features
If you absolutely must snap that nude, make sure you do it without putting your face in the photo. This way, even if the photo does get leaked, there will be nothing to tie you to it, especially given sophisticated social media algorithms that now have the ability to tag you automatically through facial recognition. The team of researchers also says that tattoos, birthmarks, scars, or other features that could connect them to you should be strictly avoided. "Consider boudoir pictures. Boudoir is a genre of photography that involves suggestion rather than explicitness. Instead of nudes, send photos that strategically cover the most private of private parts. They can still be intimate and flirty but lack the obvious nudity that could get you in trouble," said the researchers.
Don’t forward a sext you got from someone else
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is especially important since sharing nude photos of a person, especially if they’re underage, can amount to charges of distributing child pornography and land the sender in serious trouble. In addition, you should also make sure that you wholeheartedly trust the person you are sexting and don’t just get into it with a random, faceless stranger you met on the internet.
Turn off your device’s location services
This way you can make sure that even if you are sending a subtle selfie to a certain someone you only know via the internet, they won’t be able to track you down without your consent. Turn off your location on all social media apps, make sure your photos don’t automatically tag your location or username, and delete any meta-data that comes digitally attached to the image.
Use an app that can securely delete the photo after you send it
Thank god for WhatsApp’s new ‘delete for everyone’ option! Even apps like Instagram and Snapchat have such features, but it still allows users to take screenshots of the photo or save it if already downloaded on the phone. Instead, use secure chat apps like Telegram to ensure that your nudes are a one-time watch. "Be sure to promptly delete any explicit photos or videos from your device. This applies to images you take of yourself and images received from someone else," added Hinduja.
Collect evidence if you’re being pressured to send nudes
Consent is as important during sexting as it is during sex, and if someone is pressuring you to send nudes, you should feel no obligation to do so unless you’re absolutely comfortable with it. If you’re not, make sure you take screenshots of any such messages and report it to your local crime authorities.
"This is not about encouraging sexting behaviors, any more than sex education is about encouraging teens to have sex," said Hinduja. "It simply recognizes the reality that young people are sexually curious, and some will experiment with various behaviors with or without informed guidance, and sexting is no exception."
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