I’m sending/getting naked pictures via the net/phone. It’s my girl/boyfriend, but I’m worried it might get out

More and more teens I see these days are exploring sexual relationships via their phones or on the net. In fact, a recent study found that about a third of adults have done this too. Different teenagers have different feelings about this kind of sexual talk/interaction using their phone/net.  Some teenagers want to do it, don’t feel guilty and feel like it’s a fun and harmless activity.  Some teenagers feel pressured into doing it by another person and feel regretful that it happened. Some teenagers don’t feel pressured into doing it, and in fact may have started it themselves, but then later feel guilty or regretful about it. 

Whatever the case, mostly teenagers are absolutely 110% clear that they don’t want their parents to know about it!

Unfortunately, while some teens feel like it is harmless at the time, things often go wrong.  For example, here’s Tara’s story.

Tara, 17 came to see me after breaking up with her boyfriend.  Tara said that her boyfriend was really upset and angry with her, because she had cheated on him with another guy at a party.  Her (now ex) boyfriend had a whole lot of naked pictures of her on his phone, pictures that Tara had taken and sent to him when they were together.   He had sent a message to her telling her that he had shown them to his friends.  Of course the news of this went around the school in three seconds and Tara was entirely and completely humiliated.  She stopped going to school midway through Year 12 and hadn’t gone back.

It’s not just girls who are the victim of sexting.  Here’s another true story from someone I worked with.

Ben, 14, told me this:  I was friends with this girl in Year 8 (Ben was in Year 9) and her friend told me she liked me. Next thing you know, she sends me a picture of her breasts! I didn’t really know what to say so I just texted lol back. I ignored her at lunch time that day. She got really offended and was crying with her friends about it. They told the school counsellor and then I get pulled into the office and my phone confiscated. I get in huge amounts of trouble, and I didn’t even do anything! Mum said I should have deleted it straight away and told her about it, but honestly, who is going to tell their parents??

Please don’t think these things will never happen to you.  Tara and Ben would have sworn it would have never happened to them either, but it did. 

There are two things you need to know about this:

  1. Sending or receiving pictures of a naked person under the age of 18 is against the law, even if the picture is of yourself.  Teenagers in every state of Australia have been visited by the police every year for the last 5 years

  2. The words and pictures you send are a permanent record. They can be seen by people you had no intention of seeing something you thought was private. This includes parents (your parents might be looking at your phone/net history etc., and your boyfriend/girlfriend’s parents might be looking at their phone/net history etc.), the police, telephone/net companies, people at school and eventually possibly some undesirable people who are willing to actually pay for these kinds of photos.

To summarise then:  Phone/net sex or sexual talk, with or without pictures, is extremely – extremely – risky.  Even if you absolutely trust the person you are sending them to, think about whether you trust every single person who might one day have access to their phone or their computer.

So now what?

It’s easy for me to say don’t do it, it’s harder to resist when you are in the heat of the moment.  Here are ways to cope if you’re tempted, or if it’s already happened and things are going horribly wrong.

How to say No

If someone asks you to send a picture, here are some phrases you can use if you don’t know what to say.          

  • My parents check my phone/net history
  • No thanks, not interested
  • Use humour, e.g. "I don’t look good in photos!"
  • You can also just ignore a request, or pretend you didn’t get it

What if you’ve read all the stuff on the risks but you still feel tempted. In that case, just do me a favour: wait ONE HOUR. Just go do something else for an hour, and then if after an hour you still want to, you understand the risks, well then at least you’ve thought it through. Hear me out one more time though: it’s a bad idea. But what about if you’ve already sent something and you regret it?

Don’t panic. Talk to the other person involved, and ask them to delete the evidence.  Say something like:

“I kind of regret what happened the other night.  I feel really vulnerable now and a bit sick about the fact those pictures exist.  Could you please make sure you delete those pictures?  Could I come over and help you delete them?”

Also, go onto your own computer and phone and delete any photos, and if applicable delete the trash/deleted messages.

What if a friend has sent something to you?

Here's where you need to be brave and tell an adult that this has happened. The teenager who has sent this needs to understand how dangerous and illegal sending those photos is.  And an adult needs to explain it to them so they get it, and so they don't do it again.

I know this might be very tough to do in certain situations, because it feels like "telling on" someone.  But the only way to stop this happening in our society is to help teens understand the potential consequences of this happening.

You also need to make sure you delete photos from your phone.

And of course, never, ever under any circumstances send these photos on to someone else. Doing so is called "distribution of child pornography" and can get you in serious amounts of trouble.