So, About Those Naked Pictures of You on the Internet

Blaming women for taking private, nude photos of themselves is tantamount to blaming them for being nude in the privacy of their own showers, what with the potential for window treatments to billow in the wind, or the possibility of a fire breaking out.
Publish date:
September 13, 2012
internet, sexting, technology, pictures

If you ever accidentally sext anybody a photo of your lunch, I can tell you what to expect.First, you will probably take a moment to reassess your life. You are a person who has photographed your lunch. Take a moment to assess whether this is because your parents were at work a lot during your youth, because you are a middle child, or if you display any other psychopathological tendencies (bedwetting, pyromania, cruelty to children).Second, accept the fact that you will not be able to play this off in any easy way. You can't laugh it off, because it is too horrible. You can't play it off like you did it on purpose, because there is really nothing sexy about cottage cheese with fruit. I don't care what "Prevention" magazine says.Third, enjoy the lengthy silence from the other person. Perhaps he is only deciding whether or not to masturbate to a dairy product because, hey, "large curd" sounds dirty in a kind of outré, illegal VHS way, and besides, you've got OPI "A Oui Bit of Red" on you, which looks porny anyhow.

You can be sure that if a technological sex blunder exists, I have made it. I have accidentally Tumbl'd a picture of my boobs. I have erroneously tweeted DMs. I have sent texts meant for my father to dudes (try calling an older man "Dad" by accident during a dirty conversation -- they do not like it!). And of course, sure, I've sent pictures of myself to a guy who I later realized was not the kind of person whom I could trust with them.

My first impulse in these situations is always to be angry with myself. Whenever there's some kind of photo scandal with an actress, we react in a similar way. You shouldn't have posed for Playboy, you shouldn't even HAVE topless pictures of yourself, you shouldn't be sending emails or texts or DMs of a sexual nature. This, we are told, is irresponsible.

Worries of scintillating pictures of my lunch popping up on Reddit notwithstanding, a person's personal photographs turning up on the Internet shouldn't merit the I told you so many of us (myself included) are inclined to rejoinder. Rarely a week goes by without some fresh horror story of a woman being unwittingly exposed online, and the response is usually that the solution to this problem is just not to let naked pictures of yourself exist.

That is not the solution.

While I hesitate to equate this kind of violation with others, it's still a case of blaming the victim. In many instances, the photos are not meant for sharing in the first place, even with a trusted partner. Like when a public personality's phone is hacked, or a guy's ex posts a picture of his dick, or when a woman is photographed while sleeping, as was a recent "trend" in the UK.

That this last instance inspired other people to post photographs of other women on Twitter is truly unfortunate, but it is not, as some have suggested, the fault of the women who slept with them. But here's what The Sun had to say:

It’s yet another reason to stick to what might seem like old-fashioned values but is actually common sense. Save sex for someone special who you know cares specially for you – and the last thing they will do is shame you on Twitter.

Hopefully, I don't need to explain that telling someone whose physical privacy has been violated that she should have used "common sense" is unacceptable. But I think that we should also stop blaming women just for being in naked pictures, or for sexting, or for having private photos or correspondence when they occasionally surface in ways they'd rather them not. Blaming women for taking private, nude photos of themselves is tantamount to blaming them for being nude in the privacy of their own showers, what with the potential for window treatments to billow in the wind, or the possibility of a fire breaking out.

I still hear women telling one another that they shouldn't be photographed in states of undress, which is just another iteration of an older, uglier bit of conventional wisdom about miniskirts. Say what you will about the social media generation and its boundary issues, but the fact is: online privacy is a frontier, culturally and legislatively, and the ways in which technology enhances or kneecaps our sex lives are still developing.

Clearly using someone's photos without her consent is wrong (if a bit of a legal gray area), but it would be nice if we could stop demonizing women for bringing the wide use of instant photo and video sharing to its logical conclusion. It doesn't make you stupid to take naked pictures of yourself, but it does make you an asshole if you share someone else's naked photographs with other people. And because technology and people are imperfect, it's likely that a number of us are going to continue to accidentally leak photos of ourselves. This is a way we have sex now -- let's not make it about how it's something that only slutty, irresponsible, or narcissistic women do.

I think this is being reflected in the way in which women are reacting to accidental full-self disclosure. The party line used to be, "That's not me," and now it seems to fall somewhere in between, "Whoops," and just being quiet and hoping people move on quickly. In effect, the same way you'd react if your skirt blew up on one of those sidewalk vents.

I say this in part because this will continue to be an issue long after we no longer have mobile phones, and instead have floating robot familiars or holofaxes or cybernetic helper monkeys. I don't care whether it's a computer or a telegraph or two soup cans: If there is a method of communication, people will use it for fucking. And you know what? Fucking is private. If you pick up some guy's cordless phone 1-900 jerk sesh on your police scanner, he's not the creep for having phone sex in the privacy of his own home, you're the creep for listening.

Sexting gets a bad rap because we mostly associate it with scandal and, okay, semi-literate teens and professional athletes. But normal, healthy, smart people with healthy body images and good relationships with sex also take and send pictures of themselves without shirts on. This is not going to end anytime soon. And you know what? I don't want it to. I love sexting. I love phone sex. I love filthy emails (from people I know, any creeps reading). Hell, I won't lie: I've "cybered" well past the age of fifteen. A/S/L YOLO, I guess.

I admit I've often thought to myself, I can do this because I know and trust this person, but I assume the person is rare who takes a photograph of themselves licking their own nipple and sends it off thinking, "Welp! Here goes nothin'."

The fact is that anyone who has an email from me or a photograph of me or a video of me could potentially do whatever he or she likes with it, and that it's possible that people who I don't necessarily want seeing my buns will see them by accident because I still don't know how to use Instagram.

But in either case, it doesn't mean that someone isn't entitled to her dignity and privacy, any more than she would be if her sweater blew off in a freak derecho. Respecting the fact that privacy can be breached and being kind about it is basic decency, and the kind that we need to extend to accommodate the time period in which we live. I know -- it's difficult to think of a picture of some awesome boobs as belonging to a human person, but the fidelity of digital media necessitates it.

This applies to sluts, people who are being sponge bathed, your neighbors who never close the curtains, and idiots who are so bad at using phones that they send photographs of lumpy dairy products with the caption "Me."