The other day I sent my date a nude and they replied that they showed it to a friend they were hanging out with and both of them were turned on. I feel kinda weird about them showing it to other people. Am I just being a prude? We regularly send dirty pictures to each other. We’re both queer and open about our sexuality. Should I say something to my date or just take it as a compliment?
It sounds as though a boundary you didn’t know you had has been crossed. It can be tricky to navigate a new, unfamiliar boundary. But it is better to talk about your feelings now than to let it go and either have it happen again or let the discomfort fester until it pops up in another way in the relationship.
Readers, just in case you don’t already know, a nude is a sexy photo, usually a selfie that is sent over text or private message to someone. It could be explicit (like involving full or partial nudity or the portrayal of sex or masturbation) or just simply suggestive. Sometimes people post content like this on their social media so that whomever is in their network can see it. The main takeaway here is that the person creating this content has agency over where it is sent or posted, and therefore has a reasonable expectation about who is viewing it. If both parties are over 18, it is legal to send and view explicit content if both parties are consenting to the exchange. However, in the state of Louisiana, it is illegal for the recipient to electronically send explicit content to a third party or publicly post it without the express permission of the person who sent it.
Now, let’s assume that everyone involved is well-intentioned. Let’s assume that you both think it is hot and fun to sext each other, and that your date thinks you are a babe and is excited to show you off. Let’s assume their friends also think you are a babe and are happy that their friend is dating you. Let’s assume you’re happy about all of it—it can all be true and yet you are still allowed to feel complicated about your date sharing your nudes without your permission, even if the images or words never left their phone.
Maybe you post sexy selfies on your social media all the time and thousands of people know what your naked butt looks like, so your date didn’t think it would be a big deal to show their friends. Maybe you wore assless chaps for all of Decadence and a photo of your derrière ended up in ANTIGRAVITY. Maybe your friends held an underwear party the previous weekend and you, your date, and their friends were all in attendance and you all saw each other’s bare asses in person. Can you still feel weird about your date showing a friend your sext, even if you yourself have pranced your posterior all over New Orleans? Sure you can: because the photo that you sent to your date was just for them, not anyone else.
Since sexuality remains taboo, it can feel hard to be nuanced in the ways we engage with it. Just because you openly admit to being a sexual creature doesn’t mean that every aspect of your sex life is automatically open for public consumption or scrutiny. You are allowed to figure out your own rules of engagement around your sexuality. Not wanting to invite everyone into every aspect of your sex life isn’t prudish, just like engaging in consensual sexual play doesn’t mean you are a slut. You can be reserved about some aspects of your life and explicit in others and all it means is that you are a complex being. But even if our complex selves could be distilled into “sluts” and “prudes,” to engage with you sexually, your consent is always needed.
Here are some general ethical guidelines around sharing sexts. Only send them to people you trust, who are consenting to view them. If your crush or date sends you an erotic picture or message, acknowledge it—it can feel bad to send vulnerable stuff to someone and not have it affirmed! If your relationship ends, delete their nudes. Don’t send erotic photos of someone to a third party without both parties’ consent (remember, to do so is ILLEGAL in Louisiana).
Don’t take for granted that everyone feels the same way. It is possible that this is the first time you’ve ever felt comfortable exchanging sexts or nudes with someone, and you view it as a big step in your relationship. Meanwhile, your date may routinely send scandalous selfies to all their group texts, and it is as normal to them as hugging a friend hello! Both approaches are perfectly acceptable. But if you don’t communicate, how will you know what each other’s personal expectations and limits are?
If you can, try to figure out why you feel weird about your date sharing your photo. It will give you some insight on how to address what feels like a boundary violation (even if it was an unintentional one). Ask yourself: do you view these messages as a private sexy secret? Are you embarrassed at the thought of other people knowing about them? Maybe you don’t have enough trust built up yet with your date’s friend to be comfortable with them viewing your messages. Was it uncomfortable to hear that your photo made their friend horny? Are you fine with the circumstances in general, but wish they would have asked your permission first? If you know why your buttons got pushed, it is going to be easier letting your date know how to change things up in the future.
How your date responds to your concerns is going to give you insight into how your relationship is going. If they listen to your experience with care and want to discuss your boundaries with you, great! If they minimize your concerns and make you feel like you’re overreacting, that may be an indicator that they don’t respect you.
Pay attention to your instincts and talk with your dates when icky feelings happen. It can be uncomfortable, but the reward is worth it: you will build trust in yourself and your relationships.
Send your sex questions to TheSexFiles@protonmail.com
illustrations Ruth Mascelli