Sex in the digital world

●  13.1. Theoretical background[1]

What is Sexting?

Sexting is sending and receiving sexual messages through new technologies such as your mobile phone, an app, social media, instant messaging or through webcam.[2] Like sex, sexting is an intimate exchange of energy.  According to sex therapist Chantelle Otten,  sexting can be anything that you feel comfortable with and whatever suits you and your sexting partner at the time: whether that means being a little more bare, or with clothes on and maybe a few buttons undone, maybe with clothes on looking hot, or being naked. 

Sexting can include:

  • erotic messages/ posts or posts/messages in sexual language
  • nude or semi-nude photos or videos or photos/videos in your underwear
  • pictures/videos of poses in a sexual position
  • photos/videos of sexual acts
  • performing sexual things on a live stream
  • live chats with someone on webcam involving sexual acts
  • screen-captured photos/videos recorded from webcam pictures or videos of you

For some people, sexting is a way to explore their sexuality and acts a means for flirting, connection and intimacy. It is also a means to share an aspect of themselves with others and to explore boundaries. At the same time, even when there is consent, trust and respect between people who are sexting, it is difficult to be sure that a sexual message will remain private. While on one hand sexting is a means to explore sexuality, in some cases, sexting can also be used as a means of coercion, control, abuse, blackmail or exploitation.

To sext or not to sext?

Shall I ask for a nude pic of a person I am flirting with or are interested in?

It is tempting to ask for a nude pic when you’re flirting or are in a relationship. At the same time, it may also make the other person feel uncomfortable. To decide whether you want to ask for a nude, think of the following:

  • Why do you want to do this? Do you find it sexy, fun, arousing, cool? Is it a way to explore your sexuality? Is it because you want to feel good about yourself? Or do you want someone’s nude  so you can brag to your friends about it?
  • How do you think  the other person will feel about it? Will they feel cool about it? Uncomfortable? Feel that you’re putting pressure on them, even though you don’t mean to?
  • How would you feel in their position? Would you jump on the opportunity? Or hold back?
  • If you ask for it, will there be free and meaningful consent on behalf of the other person or is the other person under pressure to do so?
  • Do you have open communication and  is there  space for the other person to say no?
  • How would you feel if the other person does say ‘no’? Would you take ‘no’ gracefully?

Shall I send nude to someone I am flirting with or I am interested in?

It is tempting and sexy to send someone a nude picture/video of you. It may also be a way for you to flirt and to explore your sexuality with the other person. To make this decision, you can think of the following:

  • Why do you want to send this pic/video? Is it because you want to flirt? To feel sexy? To spice things up in your relationship? Or do you feel it is something you have to do or is expected from you to do it? Not all people share nudes with their partners and you shouldn’t feel obliged to do it.
  • Are you feeling pressured from your friends to do it? Is it your way of fitting in?
  • Are you fully, clearly and meaningfully consenting to send a nude and you’re doing it willingly, out of free will and fully understanding what it entails?
  • How well do you know the person you’re sending the nude to? Is it someone you just met or someone much older than you?  In some countries sexting among teenagers (under 18) with 4 years difference or more is considered a criminal offense (according to EU law stemming from the  Lanzarote convention).
  • Do you know how to engage in sexting safely?
  • Do you want to do it because you feel you owe someone something?
  • Are you worried that if you don’t do it , you’ll hurt the other person’s feelings? Or that they may not like you anymore?
  • Are you constantly under pressure to do it, coerced, threatened, blackmailed or given ultimatums (if you don’t do it, then I will….) ?
  • Can you handle the situation if something goes wrong? Do you know what to do and how to protect yourself?

How to practice sexting safely?

  • Avoid taking pictures/videos that show your face. Even if you’re sexting with someone you know quite well, mobiles still get lost or stolen, meaning your pictures can still get out there. Plus, no matter how well you know a person, you can still be in for a surprise. You can proactively ensure your privacy, should the unforeseeable happen, by excluding features that would make you identifiable, such as your face, birthmarks or tattoos. Even without these, you can still get creative enough and make the sexual content sexy. 
  • Protect your identity by avoiding including your name or any other information that can trace the sexual material back to you: such as your address, location, school, identifying things in the background, or bits and pieces that could reveal who you are.
  • Engage in sexting in a place where you can fully concentrate on what you’re doing. Don’t sext at work, school, university or in a place where you’re with other people and you can get distracted. It is quite embarrassing to sext the wrong person by mistake. Work environments also monitor employee’s devices and your pic/video may reach the wrong eyes. Also be mindful of the time of day you send the sext. Sending it to your partner when they are at work/school/university increases the risk of other people seeing it, even accidentally.
  • Establish some boundaries with the other person whether you both can keep the photos. The riskiest thing about sexting is the longevity of it (once something is released online, it usually stays online). Prefer to use Snapchat, as the images get deleted immediately after the other person has seen them (granted they can still be screenshotted and saved if someone wants to). You can also use apps with end-to-end encryption which provide more safety. Delete the pics/videos from your end as well, so you don’t get into any embarrassing moments when you want to show friends pictures of your dog for instance. Alternatively, you can get a vault app (like Vaulty, NQ vault etc.) that allows you to hide photos, texts, call logs and instant messages, locking them away behind a password.
  • Sext through a single, secure device, and cancel sync across devices. The worst thing is to have your picture pop up when you log in your tablet in front of your roommate or family member.  Talk security settings with your partner too so you know your messages are safely handled from their end too.
  • Sext with someone you trust and feel safe with. Granted things change and the person you trust today may betray you tomorrow. And surprises and accidents do happen. But it minimizes the risk than sexting with people you barely know. 
  • If you’re under 18 consider the legal implications of sexting. Most countries have very strict laws against child pornography and keeping explicit pictures of people who are underaged can get you in legal trouble if someone finds out. 

What is non-consensual pornography?

Non-consensual pornography refers to the sharing of any kind of intimate, private or sexual images/videos without consent, specifically to cause distress or embarrassment. Non-consensual pornography is a crime and is punishable by law. No-one has the right to share  private sexual images of you. Even if the sexual images/videos are shared with no malicious intent for harm i.e. the partner wanted to ‘brag’ about them to friends, this still counts as non-consensual pornography because it exposes intimate information about a person without their consent. Non-consensual pornography can take many forms:

  • Revenge porn: Your partner sharing intimate/private/sexual content of you online to others with the aim to humiliate you and get back at you for you breaking up. An example would be of a boyfriend posting a nude of his ex-girlfriend, without her face showing, with the caption “This girl goes to …high school and she would go out with anyone”. 
  • Trading sexual images of you in exchange for sexual images of other people
  • Sextortion: Receiving threats that images of you, or live content on webcam, will be posted online, if you don’t pay a ransom. This usually  happens when flirting and chatting with a new ‘friend’ online transcends to you being persuaded into sexual acts over  webcam. But unknown to you, the activity has been recorded and demands for money start. Sextortion can be committed by a single person or by international organized criminal gangs.
  • Sharing professional webcam sex work  on a website without the person’s consent. The same goes for a client of a sex worker sharing context they recorded/filmed of the sex worker without their consent.

Other forms of sexual abuse online[3]

Besides non-consensual pornography, there are other forms of sexual violent that can take place online. These include:

Sexualized bullying: Systematically targeting a person and excluding them from a group or community, by making use of sexual content that humiliates, upsets or discriminates against them. This includes a range of behaviours such as:

  • Online gossip, rumours or lies about a person’s sexual behaviour (‘slut-shaming’)
  • Doxing: finding and non-consensually sharing personal information about someone and sharing it online to invoke sexual harassment
  • Cyber bullying and online harassment on the basis of a person’s actual or perceived sexual characteristics, gender identity and/or sexual orientation
  • Offensive or discriminatory sexual language and name calling
  • Body shaming
  • ‘Outing’ someone on the grounds of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation without their consent

Unwanted sexualization: receiving unwelcome sexual requests, comments and content, such as

  • Sending someone sexualized content pics, nudes, videos etc.) without them asking for it
  • Sexualized comments on photos or posts
  • Unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favours
  • Sexual ‘jokes’ or innuendos
  • Rating peers on attractiveness/sexual activity
  • Altering images of a person to make them sexual

Exploitation, coercion and threats: receiving sexual threats of being coerced/forced/threatened to participate in sexual behaviour online. This includes a range of behaviours, such as:

  • Harassing or pressuring someone online to share sexual images of themselves or to engage in sexual behaviour online (or offline)
  • Threatening to publish sexual content (images, videos, rumours) with the aim to force/ coerce someone do something you want
  • Sending online threats of a sexual nature (e.g., rape threats to people with gender/sexual diversity for instance)
  • Inciting others online to commit sexual violence
  • Inciting someone to participate in sexual behaviour and then sharing evidence of it. In some countries, according to local law, if the person is under  18, this falls under child pornography and it is considered a criminal offence.

Sextortion: Receiving threats that images of you, or live content on webcam, will be posted online, if you don’t pay a ransom.

  • Being coerced to produce live video content of sexual acts over a webcam and being blackmailed that this will be shared unless you pay ransom
  • Blackmailed to produce more live video context of sexual acts or sexual acts online on the grounds of someone threatening to share sexual material that they already have of you
  • Secretly recording a sex worker who professionally performs sexual acts online and then blackmailing them that you’ll publish the material you recorded unless they pay or perform certain sexual acts (online or offline)

What to do if someone posts sexual images of you?

If you’ve been threatened or you’ve had images of you shared without your consent, it can have a big effect on you. You may be feeling guilty, worried, scared, panicking, angry, helpless or even ashamed of what happened. But remember this is not your fault. Reach out for help and take action.

  • If you know the person who shared your content ask for the message to be taken down immediately. Explain that you are prepared to take other action if they don’t. 
  • Don’t reply to threats. Don’t reply to someone trying to threaten or blackmail you, and don’t send more photos. It can be scary, but it can help you to regain control
  • Stay calm and keep evidence: Before you take any other action,  make a record of what has been  posted online, by taking screen shots. Even if legal matters aren’t your first thought, it could be important later so the police  can have evidence of what has happened.
  • Report the content to the crime to the cybersecurity units of the police and also to social media sites: Cybersecurity units can arrange to have the content removed, especially if the content has been leaked in ‘soft-porn’ websites. Reporting to cybersecurity also helps if you decide to take legal action at some point in the future. The main social media platforms can also get revenge porn removed quite easily and promptly when you contact the website administrator. 
  • Find out which websites have a copy of the image or video – try a reverse image search and contact the webmaster (owner of each website) to remove the photo or video.
  • Ask search engines to remove the link to a search . You can use the “right to be forgotten” by asking search engines like Google to remove material from their search results. Even though search engines don’t delete the photos or videos per se, this approach makes such material much harder to find.
  • Tell your family and friends first before they find out otherwise. Talking can be intimidating, especially if you’re being threatened. But it can also help you get support and stay in control. It also helps soften the blow. Having a nude shared by other people or being threatened isn’t your fault. Preparing people who are close to you for what has happened, makes them more willing to respond in a positive and supportive manner. 
  • Get help to help you cope with your emotions. Talking about what happened can help you to see things differently and let your feelings out. Reach out to friends and people you trust. Online services can also help. Most countries run support helplines for people at the receiving end of abusive online behaviour. These helplines provide psychological support and also advice on how to have the content removed. Some helplines may also provide legal advice and can arrange to have the content removed from specific websites (such as ‘legit’ adult porn sites).

●  13.2. Non-formal education activities on  Sexual abuse in the digital world

●  13.3. Links to resources and information

Steeves, Valerie. (2014) Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Sexuality and Romantic Relationships in the Digital Age. Ottawa: MediaSmarts.

Kwok, I. and Wescott, A.B. (2020). Cyberintimacy: A Scoping Review of Technology-Mediated Romance in the Digital Age. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking Vol. 23, No. 1.

Revenge Porn Helpline, UK, Information and Advice:

  1. Sources: and
  2. According to the EU Kids online survey (2012) , sexting appears to be picking up  among adolescents with 15% of young people aged 12-16 mentioning to have received peer to peer sexual messages. Other more recent research in America raise this figure to 25%.
  3. Source: Child Net International