Words: Jessica Sheridan
Whenever I have broken up with a guy, I work through a standard check list of things to do: I need to collect all my belongings from his place, return anything of his I still have at mine; I need to change my profile picture and relationship status where applicable; I have to eat pizza and drink a lot of cheap white wine with my friends.
Oh, and I have to ask him to delete my nudes. This is a priority.
Even if we don’t talk about it, many of us worry about what will become of the risqué pictures we have sent over the weeks, months or years. And when you consider the cruelties of blackmail, revenge porn, parasite porn, morphed porn and celebrity nude photo leaks, it’s easy to understand why we are worried about what could happen to our pictures after we’re gone. So we politely ask that any sensitive content we have passed on be deleted, and we pray that they aren’t lying when they say they have.
So if our nude photos are such a cause for worry, why do we bother sending nudes in the first place?
A recent study published by Plan entitled Don’t send me that pic revealed some startling statistics about Australian teenage relationships. It found that young girls felt they were exchanging nudes and other sexual favours for love and affection. What’s more frightening is that the same study showed that 81.5% of girls said they do not think their boyfriends should ask for naked pictures, yet 51% of girls feel pressured into sending naked or ‘sexy’ pictures of themselves to their boyfriends anyway. For young girls it seems, peer pressure is the reason they take nude pictures.
There are of course many women who do feel comfortable and happy taking nude photos. In 2014 a Cosmopolitan survey also asked the question: why? Why does one take nude photos? The survey found that 89% of their mostly female respondents had taken nude pictures of themselves. As for why – the responses were mixed. Some women wanted to reclaim their body after suffering with body image issues. Others were responding to requests from their partners, and although they were nervous at first, they discovered they really liked taking them.
So while there are many women who are more than happy taking and sending nudes, there are still so many sending nudes who aren’t. Why?
For men, it would seem. Both sources revealed that women and girls take these nudes largely for the male gaze. Men who ask us for pictures, and gently talk us into it if we feel hesitant. Men who encourage and compliment us when we send the pictures so that we will feel confident and happy about sending more. Men who are pleased with us when we hand over our bodies to them, rewarding us with attention and loyalty. Men who punish us by sharing these pictures, breaching our trust and blaming us for whatever happens next.
Time and time again women are being asked to trust men with their nude pictures – pictures that they aren’t comfortable sending – only to have their trust betrayed. And time and time again women are blamed by society when that trust is breached; told we were wrong to send the pictures in the first place, despite the pressures to do so. We are simultaneously being talked into loving ourselves for sending nude pictures, and then talked into hating ourselves for sending nude pictures.
In stark contrast, it appears men and boys are all too willing to send nudes without being asked. The Plan study revealed 58% of girls have received sexually explicit photos and videos online that were not wanted. Without being asked, men are willingly – forcibly almost – sending nudes to women. It’s like a display of power or dominance, dressed up as a compliment, and we as women are expected to feel flattered that they would brighten our inbox with their unwanted penis. I am sadly sure that many of us are no stranger to the unsolicited ‘dick pic’ that finds its way into our Instagram messages, Facebook inbox and Snapchats.
As long as you are consenting adults, I don’t see any problem with taking or sending nude pictures. It can be empowering to take selfies, be they nudes or not, especially in this world where we are constantly plugged into a mass media machine that tries to define beauty for us. I am all for boosting self-esteem, loving yourself, and promoting body positivity. But I also believe that this feeling should come from within. You should not need the approval of another’s gaze – particularly a sexual gaze – in order to feel beautiful or attractive, or because you think that’s what you need to do to get and keep a boyfriend. We all deserve to feel good about ourselves, always. So I find it particularly problematic that several of the respondents to the Cosmopolitan survey began their answers with this similar sentiment when confessing they had taken the pictures to show to their partner:
‘I didn’t want to, but they convinced me.’
Of course, both men and women are guilty of pressuring people into sending nudes, and both men and women can be victims. But by an overwhelming majority it is women who are sending pictures to men that they do not really want to send. And by a majority it is men who are asking for these pictures. What is going on? Why are women and girls sending nudes they don’t feel truly comfortable sending? Why are we letting ourselves be coaxed into sending nude photos in exchange for loyalty and affection? Why are girls sending nudes when they simultaneously fear the nudes will be leaked on some Reddit forum or shared on Facebook?
And even in the unfortunate circumstance that a woman’s nude photos are leaked, they are blamed for sending them in the first place. We see this ‘victim blaming’ with celebrity nude leaks. Celebrities – usually female – who have their naked pictures leaked are often met with the outdated sentiment that they shouldn’t have taken the pictures if they didn’t want them to be leaked. But this ridiculous notion suggests that we must do all that we can to defend ourselves against the evils of others, because if not then it is our fault. Don’t carry your wallet around in case somebody picks your pockets. Don’t buy a TV in case somebody breaks into your house and steals it. Don’t go outside without chainmail on in case somebody stabs you with a knife.
You see what I mean? Ridiculous.
It sure is confusing for the girls out there.
If you feel truly comfortable sending nude pictures (i.e. you don’t need a guy to talk you into it), then by all means you should continue to do so. I will never outright suggest that you should not take or send nude photos. Owning yourself and your sexuality is incredibly important, and nudes can be very empowering for women; if, and only if, you truly feel comfortable doing so. Equally, there is no shame and no fault in not sending naked pictures of yourself to others. You do not have to buy affections with your body. We should not support those who use naked pictures against others, and we should continue to call out those who disrespect the privilege of our trust. And most importantly, particularly for young girls, we must remember that our self-worth does not depend on the approval of anyone else.