For as long as humans have been inventing means of communication, we’ve been finding ways to use them for sex. There were sexy cave paintings, sexy sculptures, sexy chiseled stone panels, and sexy scrolls. Eventually we moved on to sexy letters, then telegrams, radio broadcasts, phone lines, silent films, movies, Polaroids, emails, and now texts, snaps, and DMs.
This long line of sexy media makes it clear that the concept and desire for sexting as we know it today are not new. Texting and social media are just the latest means we have for accomplishing what our ancestors had to sharpen a quill pen for or tap out in arduous Morse code: Getting your rocks off when you’re horny and your honey is far away. Sure, “far away” back then might have meant “off at war” or “tragically quarantined in a tuberculosis sanitarium” while today it’s more likely “they live off-peninsula and Uber is on surge pricing right now.” But when you get down to it, it’s not all that different.
But while the fundamentals of sending a sexy paragraph or pic pre-date your great-great-great grandparents, the massive platform that terrible people have available today to violate the trust of those who share intimate photos with them is a game changer.
According to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, 1 in 8 social media users has been the target of nonconsensual pornography, also known as “revenge porn.” Women are almost twice as likely as men to have been targets (similar data for trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming folks does not seem to be available).
When someone’s nudes end up online without their consent, it can have dramatic and long-lasting consequences. Public exposure of intimate photos and information is a deep betrayal of trust that humiliates the victim and can cause serious professional harm. Personal information about victims is also often posted alongside their images, opening them up to harassment and even violence from strangers who access leaked photos online. Given these realities, it’s no surprise that being the target of nonconsensual pornography is associated with developing symptoms of anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and other mental health conditions.
I want to make one thing perfectly clear: When someone’s nudes end up on the Internet, it is never their fault. It is the fault of the person who chose to put them there, cruelly and without regard for the wellbeing of the human person whose body they are exposing.
The good news is that Maine is one of 38 states with laws on the books recognizing that reality. In 2015, the state legislature passed a law making it a Class D crime to disseminate “certain private images” (that’s legal jargon for nudes) without the explicit consent of the subject. Maine is also one of a handful of states that explicitly includes an option for judges to order an individual to delete, destroy, or return private images to the person who sent them as part of protection from abuse or harassment proceedings (these are often referred to as “restraining orders” in common parlance).
If you or someone you know is concerned about someone posting nonconsensual pornography online, or if you’ve already been a target, help is out there.
The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (www.cybercivilrights.org) is a national advocacy organization that lobbies for laws protecting targets of nonconsensual pornography. They also connect people to services that can help order takedowns of images that have already been leaked online, or at least get them buried so far down in search results that they are less likely to cause harm.
And right here in Maine, local domestic violence and sexual assault resource centers (find yours at www.mcedv.org or www.mecasa.org) have advocates who can support targets of nonconsensual pornography and connect them to legal resources like Pine Tree Legal Assistance (www.ptla.org) for help with protection orders and other matters.
When done in good faith with mutual consent and trust, sexting can be an enjoyable way to flirt, build erotic tension, and experience intimacy with a partner. But receiving someone else’s nudes is also a big responsibility. There is no excuse for sharing nudes without permission, and while I wish that the fundamentally shitty nature of such an act were enough to stop people from doing it in the first place, it’s good to know Mainers have the law as a failsafe.