Why We Don’t Just Say Don’t Send Nudes

In March launched a national campaign — Not Your Nudes, Not Yours to Share — which emphasized that sharing someone else’s sext without their consent is illegal.

On social media it generated a lot of conversation. Some users argued that it should be more of an ethical decision; some just mocked the phone’s use of “bro.” But a good chunk of comments were simply, “just don’t send nudes in the first place.” We agree; the best way to prevent sextortion or sexting incidents is to not send nudes. Once teens send an image they’ve lost control over what happens to it.

However, we’re not going to just say “don’t send nudes.” Many teens are going to send nudes. Today, the online and offline world is so seamlessly merged that teen’s exploration of intimacy, sexuality, and sex is integrated with technology. According to a 2018 report released in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Pediatrics, 1 in 7 teens report having sent a sext, while 1 in 4 have received a sext. Simply saying “don’t” and expecting teens to listen is not realistic. However, what we can do is educate teens on why they SHOULDN’T.

What Are They Thinking?

Okay, let’s back up a bit and look at WHY teens send nudes in the first place. For science-type reasons, puberty increases experimentation, sexual curiosity, and sexual arousal. Teens’ brains are also wired for social interaction, and a need for acceptance and belonging strongly drives their decisions. So, when a girl or guy they want to like them asks for a nude, both body and brain are in the perfect place for that picture to be taken.

Teens are also impulsive, live in the now, and tend not to think of the consequences. Developing brains means they have not gained a full understanding as to why they shouldn’t send an image/video, or they think they are the exception and that nothing bad will happen to them.

So What do You Say Then?

It’s important to openly discuss the risk of sending nudes with your teen, but it’s also critical to follow it with further information that addresses both the sharing and receiving of sexts:

  • “This is what can happen to you if you share someone’s sext without consent.” As our campaign highlighted there are in fact potential legal consequences, such as being charged with the nonconsensual distribution of an intimate image. For general information about Canadian laws that intersect with this topic click here.

    An effective way to talk about this with teens is to use real-life stories from the media involving other youth. Teens are less likely to become defensive when the scenario is not personally about them. Some sample articles can be found here.

  • “This is what can happen to the person whose image has been shared.” Teens are self-centred and often don’t realize how their actions affect others. Teens need to understand sharing someone else’s sext can cause real harm to the person who initially sent the image/video. Victims can experience serious psychological harm. In some extreme cases, victims who have had their intimate images/videos shared have contemplated suicide and sadly some situations result in death by suicide.
  • “Don’t send nudes, send a naked mole rat instead.” When teens are feeling pressured into sending a sext, or sharing a sext they received, explain that one of the ways to get out of the uncomfortable situation is to send an alternative. Teens can check out to download gifs and memes of a naked mole rat (trust us, when you see one you’ll understand the connection) or use some sweet cat-themed memes from our friends at Thorn to send as a response.

  • “Don’t ask for nudes.” It’s important to discuss the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. Remind teens that pressuring a girlfriend/boyfriend to engage in sexual conversations or share images/videos is not part of a caring relationship.

    Educate teens on the importance of respect for others, which includes not sharing intimate information or images/videos without that person’s consent. It’s the old adage of treat others how you would want to be treated.

  • “If you get into trouble, I’ll be there.” Your first instinct maybe to get angry but it’s important to reinforce that it’s never too late to ask for help, even if they have made a mistake or are embarrassed about what has happened.

    If your teen has lost control over a sext visit or contact