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Dear Sexpert,

I started a relationship a few weeks ago and I am having a lot of fun with my partner. They’ve been asking me to send “sexy” pictures of myself and I have sent a few. But after reading some articles about sexting, I am not too sure how I feel. Should I be worried? I don’t know how to bring it up since my relationship is pretty new.

—Uncertain Sexter

Dear Uncertain Sexter,

Being worried about sharing private pictures of yourself is a valid concern. Sexting, or sharing sexually explicit messages, photos, or videos via a digital device, can make a relationship more exciting and increase intimacy between partners. But if you are feeling uncertain about sexting your partner, consider the source of your worry, your personal comfort zone when it comes to digital sex, and your level of trust with your partner.

Are you concerned about privacy? As you mentioned, sexting comes with intrinsic risks, given the difficulty of ensuring the security of the images and videos being shared. Although sexting is common (studies have shown that, in 2014, 1 in 5 adults had received sexts), two aspects of sexting contribute to privacy concerns: 1) once shared with your partner, even on platforms like Snapchat (where images are time-limited) or CoverMe (where messages are encrypted), the images and/or videos can be screenshotted, saved, or shared with others without notifying the sender; and 2) even if your partner keeps them private, there is the inevitable danger of accidental loss of phones or laptops, hacked files, and the like. Some of the ramifications of publicly exposed sexually explicit images include impacts on one’s education, job prospects, and personal life.

That said, there are also ways to practice “safer” sexting. To lower risk of identification, make sure that your face is not included in the picture, that the background is unidentifiable, and that distinguishing birthmarks and tattoos are avoided. Every photo also contains metadata (EXIF), which is information that describes where, when, and how the photo was taken. This information can be removed on your computer or with the help of third-party applications.

Another question you may consider is whether you trust your partner to protect your privacy, even if your relationship ends. While it is not fun to think about, you want to consider the possible consequences of a break up. Since you have already sent some images, try having an open conversation with your partner about how to securely dispose of these images or videos. Establishing these expectations now may also ensure respectful behavior in the future, should your relationship end.

Lastly, are you feeling pressured by your partner to send explicit pictures of yourself? If so, having a conversation with your partner can be helpful in establishing boundaries. Since sexting is a personal choice that functions differently in different relationships, choosing to do it depends on your level of comfort. No one should feel pressured to do something that is outside of their personal preferences or against their wishes, including sending (or receiving) explicit images.

For some tips on how to discuss your concerns or establish your preferences with your partner, consider going to Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS). CPS also offers couples counseling services that can help you and your partner build trust, improve communication, and decide how to move forward with more confidence.

~The Sexpert

Information regarding the definition of sex provided by Go Ask Alice!, The Washington Post, The Official Website of the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office, and the Pew Research Center.

For more advice from The Sexpert, visit thesexpert.princeton.edu. To submit a question, email The Sexpert at sexpert@princeton.edu.

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