This story originally featured on Popular Science.
When so much of our communication happens online, sexting and sending nude photos are as healthy and natural as having sex.
A 2018 survey revealed 40 percent of Americans have sent at least one naked picture of themselves, while data from 2015 shows nine out of 10 adults have sexted. Contrary to popular belief, these activities are not restricted to single people on dating apps, but are very much a part of committed bliss. The same 2015 survey found that three out of four sexters were in long-term relationships, and they were more likely to say they were sexually satisfied than single people.
Being able to instantaneously swap photos with someone no matter the distance can be really fun, but ease can make you ignore potential complications. Just like having sex, sending nudes can have unintended lifelong consequences you might not be willing to deal with. But you can easily minimize risks and protect yourself by being safe.
Sending nudes 101
Let’s go over the basics. Even if you sent your first nude decades ago with an original Motorola Razr, there might still be something you can learn to make the experience better and safer for you and the recipient of your sexy pics.
There’s no such a thing as completely safe nude
We’re just going to go ahead and say it: Once you hit that send button, you’ve lost total control of your photo.
“Technology can’t fix untrustworthy humans, but it can help you express your boundaries and make it a little harder to violate them,” says Jacob Hoffman-Andrews, a senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Sure, some apps will notify you when someone takes a screenshot of your picture, but they won’t actually prevent them from doing so. A recipient may also simply use another device to take a photo of the screen without alerting you.
Are you or your partner underage? Do not take, send, receive, share, or store nudes.
There’s no nuances about this one—naked pictures of minors are child pornography, and their production, storage, and distribution is against federal law.
Even if an image exchange was enthusiastically consensual, and you were the one who took a naked selfie, some states might still consider it a serious crime just because you’re a minor. Sorry.
[Related: A beginner’s guide to boudoir photography]
Abide by basic sext etiquette
This may go without saying, but there are basic rules of decency when it comes to sending nudes. First, if you receive one, don’t share it with anybody else—it is for you and you alone. When you share a private photo, you’re not only violating the trust of the person who sent it, but also making it more likely to end up in the wrong hands, or worse—on the internet. In some states, sharing naked pictures of people without their consent may also be a felony. Just don’t do it.
[Related: An expert guide to love and sex during a pandemic]
Second, don’t post someone else’s nudes online. Same principle: Don’t be a jerk.
Third—as with all sexy things—consent is key. Respect it. Don’t send unsolicited nudes, especially to people you don’t know. If you’re in a relationship with someone, no matter how casual, have a conversation about how they feel about unsolicited nudes. Some might welcome a sexy photo in the middle of their workday, while others might not. Talk to your partner about their likes and limits, and honor them.
When in doubt, abstain
Send nude photos only to those you know and trust. This excludes people you’ve matched with on dating apps but never actually met, online contacts you’re not even sure are real, or people who give you the slightest hint they’re untrustworthy.
“The biggest risk in sending a nude is that the person on the other end is less trustworthy than you think. Or that they are trustworthy today but become less so in the future—after a breakup, for instance,” says Hoffman-Andrews.
Knowing who to trust is far from a perfect science, but just asking yourself the question before you send them a naked picture of yourself might save you some trouble.
Yes, this sounds scary, but it doesn’t mean you should embrace full-on nihilism or stop sending nudes altogether. Instead, focus on managing the things you can control.
How to safely take a nude photo
The best way to keep a nude pic safe is to keep it anonymous. That way, even if your photos end up online, it will be hard to identify you.
Crop out or cover your face
Going faceless is the foundation of anonymity. If this doesn’t work with your artistic vision, be creative and opt for other ways to make you unidentifiable. Use sharp angles to keep your visage out of frame or shrouded in shadow, or shoot with a bright flash in a mirror, for example.
If you wear a mask, make sure it covers enough of your face.
Hide any tattoos, birthmarks and beauty marks
Hide any tattoos, birthmarks and beauty marks
Use framing and camera angles to keep unique identifiers hidden from view. If a large portion of your body is covered in ink, consider using props to cover up. Again, creativity is key—a piece of clothing, a scarf, or a curtain can come in handy.
[Related: Take better selfies with these lighting and angle tips]
If you need tips, check out boudoir photography content on YouTube and TikTok. This will not only help you perfect the poses and angles that will show off your beautiful body, but you’ll also learn how to make your surroundings work in your favor.
Consider your environment
If someone took a peek inside your room, they’d probably figure out a lot about you. Don’t let your unique style give you up. Find anything that may reveal personal information about you and make sure it’s not in the frame. This includes photos, diplomas, and sticky notes.
Keep in mind that something doesn’t have to have your social security number on it to be revealing. People who’ve been to your home could easily identify it by a band poster or a painting on your wall.
When choosing a setting for your nude, keep it as stripped-down as possible (pun very much intended). Blank walls and nondescript bathroom tiles are perfect backgrounds for sexy pics.
Finally, stay away from large, open windows. Well-known landmarks could peek through and be enough to trace the photo back to your home and to you. Plus, you might want to keep the neighbors out of your photo session—unless you’re into that.
Always do some post production
Always do some post production
When it comes to nudes, the cropping and healing tools included in most photo editing programs are your best friends.
The cropping tool (an icon that looks like two overlapped right angles) will allow you to change the frame of the picture, cutting out anything you don’t want to appear. This could be your face, or that overflowing hamper in the corner of your room.
The healing tool (an icon that looks like a bandage) will help you blur out information in the background, along with small tattoos, birthmarks, beauty marks, blemishes, and anything else you’d like to airbrush out.
[Related: Edit gorgeous photos right on your phone]
Downloading apps such as Snapseed (free for Android and iOS) or Photoshop Express (free for Android and iOS) to your phone or computer will help you tweak all the things you might have forgotten about while taking the picture. They will also provide you with a wide library of filters to get you looking even more like a snack.
Turn off location services
Every photo you take has metadata attached to it, including what camera you used, the operating system your device is running and, you guessed it, your location at the time you pressed the shutter button. Even if your face is not showing, someone could use that metadata to confirm your identity through your location or address.
If you’re using a mobile device, turn off location services before taking the photo. On Android, swipe down from the top of the screen to open up the quick settings menu, and tap on the location icon to turn off your GPS signal. Additionally, open your camera app and tap the cog icon to go into its settings. Once you’re there, tap on the toggle switch next to Save location to stop the app from adding your whereabouts to your metadata.
On iOS, go to Settings, then Privacy, and select Location services. There, find the camera app and under Allow location access choose Never.
If you forgot to do this, you can remove location metadata from your picture later using macOS. Open the photo using Preview and hit command + I, or go to Tools and click on Show Inspector, which will show you all the information attached to your file. Under the More info tab (second to the right), choose the GPS tab (third to the right). Then, at the bottom of the dialog box, click on Remove Location Info. The GPS tab should disappear.
You can do the same on Windows. Right-click on one or more files, select Properties, and go to Details. At the bottom of the dialog box, click on Remove Properties and Personal Information, and then check the box next to Remove the following properties from this file. At the bottom, click Select All, and then hit OK. This will erase all metadata from the selected files.
Turn of automatic syncing with your cloud services
Sending photos straight from your camera roll to your personal space in the cloud is handy, but it’s a liability when nudes are involved.
Before you take your naked portrait, make sure to turn off syncing between your device and all connected cloud services. On Android, open the Google Photos app, tap on your avatar (top right) and then on Back up. Once there, turn off the toggle switch next to Back up & sync. On iOS, turn off iCloud photos by going to Settings, tapping on your name, choosing iCloud, then Photos, and turning off the toggle switch beside iCloud Photos.
Make sure to delete your photos from your camera roll and your trashcan, or move them to a secure folder before turning syncing back on.
How to safely send a nude
You got the money shot. Now it’s time to deliver your sexy pic and rock your partner’s world.
Choose a secure platform
Anything that doesn’t have end-to-end (E2E) encryption—which protects your content from interception on its way to the recipient, and prevents the company that owns the platform from accessing it—is out of the question. This means no Facebook Messenger or Instagram. Snapchat uses E2E encryption on photos and videos, but not on messages, and although it lets you know when someone took a screenshot of your photo, it doesn’t prevent them from doing so.
Your safest bet is Signal. It’s E2E encrypted, you can have messages disappear a minimum of five seconds after viewing, and secure chats prevent users from taking screenshots. It’s worth noting that this doesn’t prevent someone from taking a picture of the screen, but as far as traditional messaging apps go, Signal may be your best option.
[Related: 6 secure alternatives to WhatsApp]
If you’re willing to spend money on your privacy, Disckreet is a messaging app designed to share racy texts and images. Available for iOS and Android, this platform is E2E encrypted, protected by a passcode, and gives users unilateral control over their content. This means you decide when your partner can see a photo you sent, and you can remotely delete the image from their phone. Diskreet’s free version limits the size and number of files you can share in one day, but you can subscribe for $1 a month for unrestricted sharing.
Get any help you can
Get any help you can
If you’re stuck using a less-than-secure app, make sure to turn on all features that might make it difficult to download or screenshot your photos on the other end. After you’re done sexting, don’t forget to explicitly ask your partner to delete your photos.
Even if they don’t do it, this will make it clear that when you shared those pictures, they were meant for your partner’s eyes only. If they share them or post them online, it legally constitutes a violation of your privacy.
Exercise some good ol’ cybersecurity essentials
Make sure you’re being safe online overall. Start by securing all of your accounts and devices with unique and secure passwords, patterns, PINs, passcodes, or biometrics. If keeping track of all that information is too hard for you, download a password manager, and don’t forget to enable two-factor authentication on all of your accounts.
[Related: How to do two-factor authentication like a pro]
You should already be doing all of this, but it is especially important if you’re swapping nudes. You want to make it as hard as possible for anyone to gain access to your sexy content by breaking into your accounts or devices.
How to safely store a nude
What you do after you send a nude will depend on whether you want to delete it or add it to your personal archive.
If you can, delete the picture on the platform you used to send it so neither you nor the recipient have access to it. If you want to leave absolutely no trace, you should also delete the file on your device.
But maybe you took a very good nude and you don’t want it to be lost in oblivion. This is when you need to secure your file. Cloud storage services are susceptible to hacks and data leaks, so you may want to store your nudes locally.
The easiest way is to move your photos to a password-protected folder on your device. On Android, go to the Files app, and then Images and Pictures. Select your nude by long-pressing on it, tap on the three dots in the top right corner of the screen, and choose Move to Safe folder. To access that folder, you’ll need to provide a security pattern, passcode or biometric feature, which can be the same one you use to unlock your phone or something completely different. You can also hide the folder, so if someone were to break into your device, they wouldn’t be able to see it or search for it.
Windows 10 has a similar feature that allows you to use File Explorer to protect any file or folder with a password. Just right-click on the item, go to Properties, and then Advanced. Click on Encrypt content to secure data at the bottom of the dialog box, and click on OK, then Apply. From the next dialog box, pick whether you want to encrypt only the file or the entire folder where it’s located, then click OK.
Apple’s computer operating system also allows you to create password-protected folders. Save your nudes inside a folder, open Disc Utility, and go to File, New image, and Image from Folder… Then, use the emerging Finder window to find the folder with your nudes, and click Choose. Under Encryption, pick your protocol, then enter and verify your password. Finally, under Image Format, choose read/write and hit Save. You can also protect single files on Preview as long as they’re saved as PDFs, and use the Notes app to create protected files with embedded photos.
There’s no built-in solution for iOS, but you can download a free file locker app that will do the same job as Android’s “safe folder” on your iPhone.
[Related: Rip out your computer’s guts and craft an external hard drive]
Another alternative is moving your nudes to an external hard drive, which you can encrypt and store in a safe location.
Safe nudes are a team effort
Nothing you do to ensure safe sexting will be truly secure if the recipient of your naked pictures cannot be bothered to set up a passcode to lock their phone.
If your partner is not technologically savvy, take time to teach them what they should do to protect you and themselves by applying some cybersecurity essentials.
Remember—safety is sexy.