Whether you’re casually dating or long married, there’s a good chance you’ve fired off an X-rated message or photo to a love interest at some point. As the main character in HBO’s new show ”Euphoria” says, “It’s 2019 and unless you’re Amish, nudes are the currency of love.”
And it’s not just teens who are swapping steamy texts. In a survey by Drexel University researchers of 870 heterosexual adults age 18-82, nearly 88 percent of respondents said they’ve sexted in their lifetimes. Eighty-two percent reported they’d sexted within the past year.
Of course, sexting opens you up to a world of risks. Actress and singer Bella Thorne said Saturday that a hacker got access to her private photos (which she decided to post on her own Twitter page, rather than be blackmailed).
Plus, there’s always the chance the sextee could show your messages to others or even post them on a revenge porn site. When it comes to the digital world, there’s simply no guarantee of privacy.
That said, we’re not going to suggest you stop sexting (because that wouldn’t be any fun for anyone). Instead, here are a few precautions you can take to keep your sexts safe.
Make Sure It’s Consensual
The first rule of all things sex is that every act should be consensual. That means before shooting over a dick pic or topless selfie, be sure to get enthusiastic confirmation that the other person wants to see it. If not, your sext could be considered harassment.
And don’t neglect your own comfort with the exchange. If you feel pressured to send a racy photo or aren’t 100 percent convinced you can trust the person asking for it, err on the side of caution and keep the convo PG-13. That goes for text messages, too ― no one should be forced to send or read sexually explicit words if they’re not into it.
Avoid Identifying Details
We get it: Pursed lips and perfectly tousled bed head can be the cherry on top of an expertly composed nude. But including your face dramatically increases the chances that a photo gets traced back to you should it be leaked. That goes for other details that can be used to identify you, such as a tattoo, unique piercing or your bedroom as the backdrop.
When snapping your pic, aim to show only the neck down and take it somewhere with a fairly plain background (like in front of a bare wall). If you have any other identifying features, consider cropping or blurring them.
Delete The Metadata
Though sexting is a mobile-exclusive activity for most people, you may need to head to your desktop for a final edit before sending any risqué images. That’s because most digital photos contain metadata, including GPS coordinates of where the photo was taken, date and time the photo was taken, the make and model of the camera and other details you might not want to be associated with your picture.
You can disable your iPhone camera from saving geographic data on photos in the first place, or use an app like ViewExif to view and remove metadata from your phone. If that’s not possible, you’ll need a computer.
To remove this information in Windows, right-click on the image file and select “Properties.” Then click the “Details” tab to find the link titled “Remove Properties and Personal Information.” Click this link to remove the metadata (you’ll be asked to select whether you want to make a copy with the info removed or to remove the information from the original). The process might be slightly different using other operating systems.
On a Mac, you’ll need to be using OS X Yosemite in order to remove Geodata without the help of a third-party tool. Open your photo in Preview, then select “Tools” and “Show Inspector.” Next, click the (i) icon to pull up the info panel, click the GPS tab and hit the “Remove Location Info” button.
Use A Secure Connection
“Use a VPN when possible,” said Zohar Pinhasi, a cyber threat specialist and CEO of MonsterCloud. A VPN ― or virtual private network ― helps keep your web activity private by creating a temporary IP address and hiding your true IP address from any site you connect with. In other words, a personal VPN will help you stay anonymous on the internet. Pinhasi noted that there are plenty of good options available, some of which are free.
And whether or not you connect to a VPN, always use a secure wireless network. Never sext over public Wi-Fi, even if it’s password protected, Pinhasi said. It’s simply too easy for hackers to intercept your messages.
Use Messaging Apps With End-To-End Encryption
Rather than sexting over your phone’s messaging app, Facebook messenger or other vulnerable services, you should use an app that employs end-to-end encryption, according to Pinhasi.
“Lots of messaging apps offer this, including WhatsApp,” he said. “That way nobody, including people at WhatsApp (or whatever messaging service you’re using), can see the message. The only person who can view the photo is the person to whom you’re sending the photo.”
Other free encrypted messaging apps include Cyphr, Signal, Silence and more.
Be Wary Of The Cloud
In addition to sending sexts securely, you should also make sure you’re storing them in a way that won’t make them accessible to hackers. If you’re using an iPhone, for example, your images may be syncing to iCloud.
“While companies can tell you their cloud is ‘secure’ and ‘safe,’ you must come to terms with the fact that it’s entirely out of your control,” said Pinhasi. “You are taking their word for it and putting trust in a company that it’s doing the right thing from a security standpoint. But there’s absolutely no way to know ― and that includes what [data] employees may have access to.”
If you’re going to hold onto nudes, it’s a good idea to keep them in personal cloud storage rather than iCloud, Google Drive, etc. A personal cloud isn’t inherently more secure, but Pinhasi explains that they’re much smaller and less likely to be targeted by hackers. “You can also control when that cloud is connected to the internet and when it isn’t. When it’s not connected to the internet, hackers can’t gain access to it.”
Finally, he said, you also have the option to control how your files are stored on your own cloud. “You could, in theory, encrypt all of your data before placing it on your own personal cloud,” he said.
Destroy The Evidence
Better yet, your best bet is to get rid of nudes after you’ve sent them. It might pain you to delete the most perfect booty shot you’ve ever captured, but you’re better off destroying the evidence rather than leaving it around for the wrong person to find.
Sure, the receiver will still be in possession of those files, but at least you can ensure things on your end are hack-proof. And it’s not unreasonable to ask your sexting partner to follow the same precautions you do.
Don’t Do It At Work
According to the same survey mentioned above, nearly 30 percent of sexters have done it at work or while out and about. That might add an extra layer of sexy, sexy danger, but it also puts you at undue risk of being caught and potentially losing your job.
“The temptation may be there, especially if you’re feeling a little bored and worked up, but it’s best to wait until you’re home in a safe space,” said Dr. Clare Morrison, a medical adviser at MedExpress. If you’re caught by a co-worker ― or worse, your boss ― the repercussions could be pretty bad. Plus, if your phone is linked to a work cloud or server, your photos could end up being circulated around the office, Morrison said.
Know Your Rights When It Comes To Revenge Porn
Sexting is inherently risky behavior, but that doesn’t mean that it’s ever okay for someone to share your messages or photos without your permission.
Revenge porn, or intentional distribution of non-consensual porn, has been criminalized in most states. However, the law varies depending on the specific state, and nine have yet to make revenge porn illegal. Familiarize yourself with local revenge porn laws so that if anyone ever were to distribute your nudes or handle them in an inappropriate manner ― God forbid ― you know what legal recourse to take.