Author: Selina Musuta, IT Support Specialist at Trans Lifeline
Disclaimer: This article is written for an 18+ audience. If you are under 18, sharing and receiving nude selfies even with another minor has legal consequences in many jurisdictions in the U.S. as well as Canada.
For many, being comfortable enough to send X-rated messages, steamy voice notes, and naked selfies to your sweetheart or that person from your favorite hook-up app is not only sexy and celebratory, it can be the most immediate and safest option for sexual intimacy. However, the lack of physical intimacy doesn’t mean a zero risk exchange. Instead, risks may be different, so building in consent and a plan for safety is just as important.
Sexting (sending and receiving sexually explicit texts) comes with the possibility of playful images, videos, and messages being shared with others or released publicly without your permission. This isn’t always done out of malicious intent. Either you or the receiver could have their device compromised. But either way, this could cause emotional harm by breaking trust, causing embarrassment, outing, and impact personal relationships as well as professional opportunities. Even though the threat is real, there are technical and behavioral steps one can take to reduce those risks.
Set up agreements for enthusiastic consent
Never enter a sexting encounter with the assumption that anything goes. Set up a conversation with your sexting partner on what the engagement could look like. This includes but is not limited to: if and what they can share with others, what fantasies can be explored, and what kind of media can be shared (gifs, videos, photos). And remember that consent can always be revoked. Ask to have a request to delete your sexts from their device honored, and offer the same.
Keep some anonymity in your selfies
Consider leaving your face out of photos. Blur characteristics that could easily identify you like tattoos, scars and birthmarks. There are plenty of photo and video editing tools like ObscuraCam to apply a pixelated effect. Also, anonymize surroundings that a photo or video is shot in. That includes taking down items that close networks could recognize and associate with you.
Decide what messaging platform to use to exchange naughty messages.
Do not use messaging apps that come pre-installed with your mobile device like iMessage for iPhone, at least not for sexting. Instead, download a messaging app that is built with privacy in mind like Signal. It is end-to-end encrypted meaning that the communication can only be seen between the sender and receiver. You don’t need a phone number to sign up to use it. It has a camera obscuring feature that gives the user the ability to blur faces or any part of a photo. It has a disappearing messages feature with a timer that deletes messages after they are read. It also gives you the option to block your receiver from taking screenshots.
Send racy emails that are encrypted
Plan a date for you both to sign up for an end-to-end encrypted account like Protonmail together. Protonmail offers self-destructing emails if both users are on protonmail, which means you can automatically set a time to delete that intimate email you send once it lands in the the recipient’s inbox. Remember, someone can still take screenshots of your email content.
Say no to automatic full backups to the cloud
Backing up files to the cloud is a great practice but should come with a plan. Setting up automatic backups for your phone or laptop means that that sensitive data could live some place else other than your device. And if your account is compromised on that cloud, so is that sensitive data. Some messaging apps like WhatsApp allow automatic backups to Google Drive, and iPhones to iCloud Consider turning that off.
Physically secure your device
If you lose your phone or someone physically accesses your phone for any reason, you want messages and multimedia to be stored safely. Enable your phone to unlock with a pin or passcode, and if the messaging app has that feature, add an extra layer of protection by enabling a pin for the messaging app.
Let Salt N’ Peppa be your guide
Let’s talk about sex, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
If you are a victim of outing or blackmail, Trans Lifeline has a list of external resources to support you against online harassment. If you are in crisis, you can always call our Hotline: USA: (877) 565–8860 / CAN: (877) 330–6366