An often-taboo topic, I wanted to discuss the issue of nude shaming and how it is unique in the LGBTQ+ community. I consider myself somewhat open when it comes to the topic of nudes. If you ask any of my close friends, I joke about and admit to engaging in the transfer of nudes when dating. In speaking to a friend recently, she assured me that pretty much everyone dating in modern times has sent or received nudes. I once knew a girl who had a separate email inbox for dick pictures from guys. In the gay community, I feel that we have a particularly strong reputation for nude sending. Of course, sharing nudes isn’t something I talk about every day at work, with my family, or even necessarily on this blog. I think there is a time and place for everything, and every situation dictates your comfort level with exposing the fact that you expose…yourself (in photos.)
A recent situation in my life forced me to deal with the idea that I would, in fact, be embarrassed if certain people found out I engaged in sending nudes. It’s something no one should have exposed against their will. There are many sensitive situations where the revelation that someone sends or receives nudes can be inappropriate – work, for instance. Imagine the backlash if a young teacher at a grade school was publicly exposed for sending nudes to the people he dates – parents would probably take issue. That is one of a million examples where respectability is crucial to a person’s work, and nudes can destroy that. This is aside from the laws against revenge porn (i.e. when one person leaks another’s nudes without consent, knowing it was meant to be private, and knowing it would cause the person emotional distress.) In California, revenge porn is a misdemeanor punishable by fines and up to 6 months in jail. The exposing of nudes is serious business.
But why is it so taboo in our society if so many of us do it? Why are we so obsessed with celebrity nude leaks and judge them, as if they have failed? Why do some feel embarrassed or shameful about something we are confident many others do? I am confused why it is inappropriate for consenting adults to share nude photos in private, and how is it any different than consenting adults engaging in sex privately. Sure, one has a paper trail and the other doesn’t – but does that make one “worse” or more “taboo” than the other? What if you went to someone’s house and their PetCube was unintentionally recording you having sex and it was leaked – why is one act of being naked or sexual more shameful than the other? I was caused to reflect on some reasons of why gay people, in particular, may send nudes. Some may be doing it for the rush and excitement. Others – perhaps “size queens” – may be doing their due diligence before a hook up. Some, however, may rely on nudes as a way to avoid stress related to sexual encounters.
Any LGBTQ+ person involved in dating apps knows how easy it is to find a hook up online. But you also likely know the stress that comes with those one-time hook ups. It is stressful to engage in sex with a complete stranger, not knowing if you can trust them or what they say about their sexual health. Even if you engage in safer sex practices (which we all should), anything is possible, especially on those late nights when you are thinking with the wrong head. One major stress is the fact that if HIV has been transmitted during sex, it may not show up on an HIV test for a month or more. Despite safer sex practices and advances, this can be a major source of anxiety until you confirm your status.
Especially before PrEP (or for those who do not take it), there can be weeks of self-doubt about how you made the choice to hook up with someone you didn’t know, particularly if you weren’t safe. Does that person take care of their sexual health? How many people has that person slept with this week, and does he know if they take care of their sexual health? Apps like Grindr make it easy to hook up with countless people every week, increasing your odds of STI’s. Some may avoid sex during the downtime after a hookup until they get tested, because every time you have sex, you are technically lengthening the time before you will get an accurate HIV test result. HIV is only one concern – there are countless other STI’s you are putting yourself at risk of with every sexual encounter. Many get tested on a certain frequency, perhaps every few months, and practice safer sex to best deal with that worry – but it is still there.
Nudes may solve these issues for the group of people in the community who avoid hook-ups and the overall stress of random sex when not in a committed relationship. Some of these people may rely on sending and receiving nudes as a substitute for random sexual desires. If you can satisfy a need on your phone, without the hassle of meeting someone, figuring out their sexual health, and hoping for the best, why wouldn’t you? Because sending photos leaves a paper trail or evidence, is it now more shameful than hooking up with as many people you want, every time you want it? To be clear, I am not saying hooking up is wrong. To each their own, as long as you are safe and responsible and enjoying yourself. But I think that sending nudes, for some, is a convenient and totally responsible way to handle a sexual need in modern times, and exchanging nudes shouldn’t feel dirty or wrong.
Nudes are a reality of today’s society and culture. To build a culture of shame or repression around them is as damaging to some of us as it was to be in the closet. In the personal situation I spoke of, I was put in fear that the revelation that I exchange nudes would paint me out to be less respectable or accomplished. It would take away from my image, or tarnish my reputation. I felt like I was a second-class citizen, like some pornography addict, simply because I send or receive consensual, private nudes in my adult dating life. It is crazy to me that I wouldn’t be judged if I just slept with all of the people I was talking to instead of sending nudes. I wouldn’t be judged if I exposed myself to more STI’s, because at least there’s no paper trial. For some reason, though, since I sometimes use the responsible option of sending a nude, calling it a night, and getting back to my demanding personal and professional schedule, I’m some sort of whore or deviant.
I’m not saying that everyone should send nudes – but we definitely shouldn’t judge people who do it. There are a lot of considerations that everyone should fully think through before engaging. Can this photo be leaked, am I identifiable in it? Do I trust the person I am engaging with? Should we do this on Snapchat or something impermanent – can they screencap? Should we do a Facetime- can they record it? There are always risks with nudes, but there are also always risks with sex. Let’s all just try to be as safe and responsible as possible, and not judge or ridicule other humans for fulfilling human needs. Gay people deal with enough in just coming to terms with their sexuality and navigating the dangers of the modern hook up scene. Do we also have to shame them for using nudes – a responsible, convenient alternative to random hook ups? I think not.