In Defense Of Naked Selfies, Sent Unwisely

“Revenge porn”: two words in the English language that should never go together.

Alas, those two words are shackled together by malicious idiots looking to ruin the people who had the misfortune to date them, and this weekend we had another outbreak of dickery.  Twitterpurge had a bunch of angry exes posting nudes of their ex-girlfriends in an attempt to shame them.  As it turns out, there are no laws protecting you from people posting naked pictures of yourself against your will – aside from paying $35 to copyright the photos and filing a DMCA takedown notice.

Some will say that anyone dumb enough to send nudes of themselves to their lovers deserves what they get. To me, that’s along the lines of saying “You should have known not to dress like that, going to that club!” when someone gets raped. Yes, if one never sexts or sends naughty pictures then one can avoid this, but I think that’s a way of suppressing a quote-unquote “shameful” act.

If someone recorded all your arguments over the phone when you were breaking up and then released your crying breakdowns as a podcast, I’m pretty sure the response wouldn’t be, “Well, then stay off the phone.” If after a bad breakup, someone wrote a humor piece published in the local paper on how foolish you looked when you had an orgasm, the answer would not be, “Well, don’t have sex.”

The truth is that we as society deem certain activities acceptable (and thus worthy of protection), and put other activities in the “You knew you were doing something shameful, so really, you deserved that, didn’t you?” And fuck that noise.

Yeah, I’ll say it: there’s nothing wrong with sending naughty photos to willing recipients. (“Willing” being the key word, here.  Don’t Anthony Weiner yourself.) In relationships the naughty text is often a form of foreplay, like dressing up in lingerie, a way to ensure your partner is ravenous for you when they walk through the door.  Or, in long-distance relationships, a way of bridging the loss of physical intimacy that happens when you’re in separate states.

And whether you think it’s wise or not, pretty much everyone does it.  (I was once told by an ex-Genius Bar employee that yeah, pretty much every person dating has a naughty selfie or two hanging about, so they had to be super-careful when checking someone’s phone.)  It’s a super-common activity, something that we may not like to admit happens, but does.  A lot.

If you’re not comfortable with that, I support your unwillingness to participate.  But when you shift to shaming and going, “Well, you knew the risk!” I hear you basically saying, “To avoid all risk of pregnancy or STDs, don’t fuck anyone ever.  Otherwise, well… you knew the risks!”

All actions with other people have risks.  But again, as society, we think certain people deserve to be punished for taking those risks.

That noise can be fuckenated.  Especially in a committed relationship.  There is especially nothing wrong with sending naughty photos to someone who has actually seen you naked, who is someone you’ve committed to as a partner, who at the time of the sending is someone you love and trust and care for.

What is wrong is when after the relationship sours, that person posts those pictures as revenge.

The problem is not the person who sent the photos, but the sick fuck who has weaponized them.

By shaming the victim here, you degrade the idea of privacy.  What you say or send to someone in the course of a relationship is, and should have, a reasonable expectation of confidentiality.  We’re still adjusting to the techno-shift of “Oh crap, what we say is on the record,” but at some point people will be able to dig up really fucking awful stuff about you at any time, and you need to look at the larger picture:

Is anything we do open to the public, where if anything you say happens to get captured anywhere then it’s fair game to be thrown open to millions of people?

Or is there a place where what you say to someone can – and should – reasonably be expected to stay between you two, where you don’t have to live a life constantly asking yourself, “Would I be comfortable with this statement being broadcast on ABC News?”

HINT: Politicians are trained professionally to act as though their every word will be broadcast, and they still fuck it up on a stunningly regular basis.

This is not a “stupid women” issue. It’s actually asking the larger question of “Who’s the jerk – the person who expected privacy, or the person who broached it?”  And I think as a society, we really want people to exude that cultural pressure to say, “No, some things were meant to be seen by one person only, and anyone who breaks that seal of trust is a dick who needs to have his ass handed to them.”

So it’s not about naked selfies, in that light, it’s about asking yourself whether you’d like to lead a life where every conversation you have with your friends might one day be Google Glassed out to an audience of millions.  This starts, as it always does, by picking on people who we as a society has agreed pretty much deserve it – and hey, that eternal punching bag of “slutty women” never gets a whole lot of respect, why not justify their disrespect?

Or you could – and should – switch your point of view away from “They knew the risks,” which actually is a synonym for “We’re not going to bother to protect your rights,” and move towards “Those guys broke an implicit contract, using what was given in private to try to ruin their lives, and we should do everything we can to stop these sick fuckers.”

And for the record, I think this applies pretty much everywhere.  Ben Stein just got outed by a call girl who released screenshots of his texts, and I’m really not fucking comfortable with the excuse of “He’s a celebrity, he should have known.”  Even celebrities should be able to have awkward relationships and breakups without people exposing their private data.  And even though I think Donald Sterling is a racist nitwit who’s done a lot of harm, I am not comfortable with his ex recording their conversations and releasing them into the public arena to fuck him over.

Yeah, in the case of Donald Sterling, his removal has done a service for the NBA.  But I think that sets a dangerous precedent, saying that “Well, we got rid of a racist, so any angry ex is perfectly justified in taking all the embarrassing shit they’ve gathered on their old partner and putting it out for the Internet’s entertainment!”

I think there’s a lot of bad exes out there – and though I’ve never gone on a racist or homophobic tirade during a breakup, certainly I’ve said some shit that sounds horrible in some end-of-relationship arguments.  And here’s the thing: if you’ve had a breakup, you almost certainly have too.  Breakups are often where courtesy goes to die.  Which is why I don’t think “Well, I wanted to get back at someone who was mean to me” justifies breaking the seal.

We do stupid things in relationships.  And some of those stupid things, yes, reflect who we really are, but what’s said when a relationship is ending is rarely flattering or a full picture.

What happens when you’re dating should, largely, stay between you.  And a mark of maturity when breaking up is not involving your friends, not airing every bit of dirty laundry, and not violating past intimacy by revealing everything you think would fuck them over.  (Unless that person is a rapist, an abuser, or other hazard to the community, naturally.  I’m not arguing for “Never break the seal,” but rather “To do it rarely and with greater concern than merely revenge.”)

What happens between you as a couple should stay between you as a couple.  That’s something I think should continue even in an Internet age.  And yes, there’s always a risk sending dirty pictures or having nasty arguments that have you say stupid things or revealing the embarrassing stuff you do during sex – but rather than shaming the person who took the risk, we should overwhelmingly shame the person who created the risk.  We should shame them for maliciously leaking the information entrusted to them.

We should shame them flagrantly, consistently, gratuitously, until that risk is as small as any possible risk associated with sex.  Which is also not shameful.  And anyone who tells you it is should be ashamed.

8 Comments

  1. Hobbit
    Jul 23, 2014

    As soon as I learned that some pics on revenge porn sites is a woman’s face pasted on a naked body that is not hers, I stopped worrying about what I can do to prevent revenge porn. If someone is so emotional at me that they feel the need to post shit like that, well, there’s nothing I can do about it.

    • TheFerrett
      Jul 24, 2014

      I did not know that! Interesting. But it makes sense.

      Yeah, I might say fuck it then, too.

    • Yet Another Laura H
      Jul 24, 2014

      Hobbit, not buying it. If someone is so emotional at me that they can do such things, I kind of want there to be a way for me to stop it. (My story, a portion of it, is below. My guy is in jail for a very, very long time, given some of the other stuff he did). But I think that this is exactly the problem: you can cut off the head in the picture and say it’s anyone you want to hurt, and the punters say they don’t care if the woman actually did it or not, she is guilty of being a woman who MIGHT make sexytimes with a person who is not you and therefore does not deserve the protection of the law, somehow.

  2. Yet Another Laura H
    Jul 23, 2014

    I find it interesting that no-one talks about the site owners who profit via so-called “revenge porn” (although an overwhelming majority is apparently either from hacked accounts or stolen equipment), either. It seems to me these people are the porn equivalent of the man who lent his name to the term “maverick” by saying that all calves to young to be branded that strayed across his land belonged to him. People who run revenge porn sites are profiting by those who claim it’s the cow’s fault for being made of meat in the first place, and hamburger is just a happy side effect.

    (Anecdotes being the plural of data: I had a partner who wasn’t happy with my deciding I didn’t want to continue the relationship. This person found a picture of a young woman posing for a nude “selfie” in the shower, and published it on such a board with my then-fifteen-year-old daughter’s name beneath it, and offered to sell her contact info to interested buyers. You want to support this sort of behavior, or blame me for it, go ahead. But I shall not respect you.)

  3. Doug S.
    Jul 26, 2014

    There’s one more aspect of this:

    Why should a naked picture of someone appearing on the Internet be something that would hurt that person’s reputation in the first place? The “revenge” part of “revenge” porn is because it’s supposed to be embarrassing and shameful, but it’s other people’s reactions that make it that way. Those reactions definitely happen – for example, Vanessa Williams lost the title of Miss America because some old naked photos of her ended up in Penthouse magazine – but they shouldn’t. After all, everyone’s always naked under their clothes. ;)

    • Michael Spagnuolo
      Sep 1, 2014

      It’s very unfortunate, but, for most people that’s not the world they live in. Reputation and careers are hurt. Furthermore, even if them are okay with it, many people have family (perhaps children or older parents) who are not.
      I hope someday we all live in a world where a risqué picture of a person isn’t a major problem. Till then we need to respect people’s privacy.

  4. Geo
    Sep 1, 2014

    I agree that the guys who publish revenge porn are evil bastards, unfortunately, that is a side of human nature I’ve seen all too frequently. As you say, “Weaponizing” a photo of someone for vengeance is just evil, and worse, it was most likely the evil bastard in the first place who coerced the woman into taking said photo, if she didn’t do it out right because of her desire to please him.
    I have, in my life, become more cynical and hard, and personally I have said that I think it was really a lousy idea to take ANY nude photos in the first place (as per my FB post about the nude pics scandal thing,) because people, either familiar or strangers with bad intent, can do terrible things if they find said media as a weak spot. I feel bad for anyone that has this happen, but I also feel that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; if you want to take such pics, go with your gut on giving them to ANYONE. Even then, double and triple think it; in this age, it is all too easy for joy to sour, for desire to weaken and for puppy love to come back at you with snarling fangs…

  5. Beth
    Sep 2, 2014

    I agree with you, oh, my heavens do I agree with you, in theory (and I’ve sent and willingly received some pics). However, society has to change A LOT for me to feel safe sending pics in the future.
    I’ve never had any revenge porn posted, but I HAVE had an ex turn on me, twist so many things I said to make me seem crazy, and I am glad he has no naked pics of me.

    The metaphor about how you should never fuck anyone if you don’t want STIs or unwanted pregnancies, works to a point, but there are no such things as birth control pills or condoms on the cloud.

    I agree, these reactions shouldn’t happen. But they do.

    Anecdote time; years ago, the dance group I work with did an event based around the music and characters of Cabaret. We sang “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” which is a Kander and Ebb version of a stirring Nazi Anthem, meant to show the frightening yet subtle changes coming to Berlin. In most versions of the play, and in the movie, it ends with everyone “Heil”ing. We decided not to do that, even though it would have been in character for most, even though we and the customers knew it was acting, even though the events make it pretty clear that we think Nazis were the bad guys. But context might not work for a future boss or parent of a child’s friend or a college recruiter or any of dozens of other people who might run across it after some well-meaning person said “that was a cool event, I’ll tag everyone I know in this picture.”

    And I hate that.

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