Why We Send Nudes

Here, 50 women speak candidly about their first sexting experience, how nudes make them feel, and the unspoken rules.

Sending Nudes
Photo: Dearest Creative

Nudes are not an invention of the digital era — any art museum is proof of that. Neither is dirty talk — just read James Joyce's wildly, er, imaginative letters to his crush. But the Internet sure has encouraged us to take the art of sexting to places our parents could have never imagined. AIM introduced the concept of cyber-flirting. Chatroulette gamified it. Snapchat pulled off a vanishing act. Leaks like Emily Ratajkowski and Kim Kardashian's confirmed the realities of slut-shaming. Eggplant emojis provided a shorthand for requests. The AirDropped dick pic epidemic assaulted our inboxes. And the witty Urban Decay palette offered a cheeky rebuff.

Sending nudes is risky business — ask anyone who's ever been the victim of revenge porn, or had a co-worker glance at their phone at the wrong moment. But the research says that one in five adults is willing to chance it. Alone in their bedrooms — feeling horny, bold, or in need of validation — they take pleasure in trading photos of their most vulnerable selves.

We asked women what they feel about nudes, and the answer? A lot. Here, 50 women of all ages from across the country tell us about their experiences sending and receiving naked photos — the uncomfortable, the empowering, and the cautionary.

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The First Time

"My earliest memory of being asked for a nude pic is in 4th or 5th grade, when I would go into open AIM chat rooms, and strangers would say, 'ASL?' [age/sex/location] Then they would ask for nudes. I only send nudes to partners or people I'm seeing if they are completely unidentifiable (no face, tattoos, or marks proving it's me)." —Gabrielle, 26, New York, sales

"I'm sure any straight guy would love to get AirDropped a pic of a girl's tits, but unexpectedly getting my first dick pic on the subway during rush hour was one of the most invasive experiences I've had in NYC. And that's saying something, because NYC is basically one giant invasive experience. It was disgusting and threatening." —Riley, 26, New York, media

"I was 19 and I let my college photography professor, who I was having an affair with at the time, take photos of me. I felt very vulnerable, and when he asked later if he could submit them to a photography exhibit/contest, I said absolutely not." —Debra, 62, California, producer

"I was asked for feet pictures when I was 11 or 12, and I didn't know what was really going on. Once I found out much later, I was disgusted. I wasn't actually asked for a nude photo until I was 15. My boyfriend at the time wanted to sext, but I wouldn't send him pictures. I was very sheltered. I didn't send any until I was probably 18." —Lexie, 21, Florida, administrative assistant

"When I first started dating after my divorce at 41. Not being used to dating sites or texting men (since I was married for 12 years and when I dated in my 20s, we didn't text), I thought sending pics was very risqué." —Alisha, 45, Florida, sales

"I was 11 when I first sent one to a guy from an AIM chat room, and I continued to talk to him and send photos for YEARS after that. The craziest part is that we never met, Skyped, or talked on the phone—I had no way of knowing who he actually was but thought we were in some sort of relationship. I think back on it and feel really dirty because I'm sure he was a creepy, old pedophile." —Alexandra, 28, New York, finance

"When I was 13, my cousin's friend asked me to send a boob pic over AIM. I had no boobs, so I didn't want to send a picture. I had all my friends over and we were huddled around AIM when he sent a dick pic. That really scared us and probably led to us not doing anything with boys for a while after." —Morgan, 28, Michigan, nurse

Everyone Makes Their Own Rules

"When I was single, I always had a rule not to send nudes until they've seen me naked IRL. You don't want to miss that moment of excitement when they see you naked for the first time. Now, I just send to the friend group chat. When our boobs look good, we send." —Lyz, 32, New York, copy director

"I refused to send them until [I was] married, and I never have my face in a photo. I have ALL the rules. I don't send anything that, if it were to be seen by my family, they could be sure it was me." —Tara, 35, Texas, singer

"Pussy pics are for boyfriends and hubbys only. But I don't care about my face being in photos or people taking screenshots—I'm pretty body proud (most of the time) when I work hard on angles and sex appeal." —Regina, 28, Ohio, healthcare IT

"I only send via Snapchat because you can see if something has been screenshotted." —Lauren, 26, New York, editor

"I had never taken a picture like this before and was convinced I'd get a horrible angle so I asked my sister to take it. We're so close it didn't even phase her. My boyfriend was excited but responded, 'Who took that picture???!' Only selfies from now on." —Josephine, 24, New York, teacher

"Outwardly, I advocate for deleting naked pics of your exes, but I secretly hope mine hold onto the ones I've sent them. There's something incredibly arousing about the idea of them still salivating over my near-naked body." —Ariella, 29, Massachusetts, writer

"I'll show different parts of my body. Once in a great while I'll send a pic with my face too. I trust that my boyfriend would never show anyone." —Brooke, 34, California, therapist

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Why We Send

"I've sent them to my committed partners as well as people I've casually dated, if I want to spice up the conversation or the mood strikes. The older I've gotten, the less I need or care for the self-esteem boost. It's more to make the receiver happy." —Lauren, 29, California, publicist

"I was getting so many unsolicited dick pics on dating apps, and I alternated between being creeped out and being angry, but then I just started to think it was funny and decided to turn the tables and send a pic of my boobs as my first message. Honestly, only one guy didn't respond out of like … 25. I even went on dates with some of the guys and they weren't pervy or inappropriate. Of course, there were a ton of filthy responses, too, and I didn't respond to those, but I liked throwing them off and feeling in charge." —Kelly, 29, Arizona, web designer

"I sent them unprompted to my ex-boyfriend, knowing it was going to be a sexy surprise for him wherever he was. It made me feel powerful and gave me an ego boost because I knew I could expect a good reaction." —Fiona, 27, Washington, editor

"I used to help my friends get boob jobs through myfreeimplants.com. Girls who wanted implants would set up a free account, and boys would have paid accounts. They would give money in exchange for pictures, so we used to hang out, watch movies, and respond to their messages. Every time they sent a message, my friend got $1, and sometimes they'd say something like 'picture in a red bra for $20.' I know two girls who got boobs that way." —Kate, 39, Ohio, stylist

"Boredom, loneliness. Been single too long and want affirmation that I've still got it." —Natalie, 29, New Jersey, artist

The Best Response

"A boy told me I looked like a 'beautiful renaissance painting,' and my roommates and I wrote it on a Post-It on our fridge." —Autumn, 21, Massachusetts, student

"A picture of his hard dick saying, 'You did this to me.'" —Candice

"I'm a trans woman, and I only did the bottom surgery a year and a half ago, so I'm still exploring and getting used to my new body. I love it and it feels right, but the thought of being naked around people still gives me a ton of anxiety. After I'd recovered, I sent a photo of my new vagina to one female friend and a longtime male friend I've hooked up with. Both made me feel so good and said they've never seen a better-looking pussy in all their years of watching porn." —Jess, 31, Oregon, hairstylist

"Fuck. Me. Now." —Alison, 26, California, retail

"He can send a pic back, but I don't masturbate with it or anything. I'll probably just show my friends." —Regina

"I never hope for a response. I guess I like exciting my partner/getting them aroused but not in-depth phone sex." —Maria, 23, New York, account executive

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The Worst Response

"Squirting emoji. Nothing else. Boy, bye." —Kendall, 24, Atlanta, grad student

"When I first started dating women, I assumed everything would be easier—from making plans to first-date conversation to sex. Sometimes it is, but women can also be really judgy. I sent a pic of my boobs to one chick before we'd met, and she said, 'Is that you?' When I said yes, she responded that she wasn't sure since they looked a lot bigger in my profile picture." —Camille, 30, Texas, hospitality

"Why did you send that haha" —Sophia, 24, New York City, sales

"One time I sent one to a guy and he ghosted me, so I showed my friend the picture and she said it wasn't flattering. Now I always check with friends before sending." —Katharine, 42, Virginia, publicist

"I do not want dick pics. I had a guy send me a picture of a cum-stained paper towel and the lower portion of his genitals after I sent him nudes—and I was not happy or asking for it." —Lexie

"I actually don't want one in return, like, ever. Maybe once I become a cougar and am dating young guys just for their looks, I would want that." —Katie

"I just sent my husband an unprompted photo of my boobs. He sees them all the time. He texted me back, 'I'm coming. Nowwww.' But 10 minutes later, he's still in his room playing Fortnite…" —Ally, 28, Ohio, nurse

The Best Time to Send

"I usually volunteer first, after dating for a while and then sleeping together. I'll send a pic pretty soon after we've become monogamous. It's just fun. And they probably are surprised to get it because I'm pretty uptight otherwise." —Katie, 33, New York, writer

"Mostly after the first or second date depending on how far we went on each." —Candice, 27, New York, public relations

"Some guys ask immediately, and I'm not okay with that and won't send. I've only ever sent to serious boyfriends." —Ashley, 28, California, realtor

"After you've had sex." —Leah, 24, New York, student

"I would [only] with a boyfriend." —Madeline, 23, California, product manager

To Edit or Not to Edit

"I edit my nude photos before I send them 99 percent if the time. I make my waist smaller, my boobs bigger and perkier, and any other small tweaks I can make. Even though I edit my pictures, I love my body and I think it's something to be proud of, so it does make me feel empowered and sexy." —Mollie, 24, Ohio, marketing coordinator

"I always take new pics so it's in the moment and I'll show whatever part of my body anyone asks for if I'm feeling it. I edit them using the smoothing tool—it helps a ton!" —Hilliary, 28, Kansas, retail merchandiser

"I feel like the whole point of sending nudes is to show you're comfortable enough to be at your most vulnerable. Save the Facetune for your fake Instagram life." —Megan, 32, Illinois, event planning

On Insecurities

"When I look back at the pictures or videos, I get so embarrassed and ashamed. I think it's because I am looking at myself in such a vulnerable position, and then I start to think about all the ways the recipient could potentially judge me." —Casey, 23, Michigan, fashion stylist

"I feel self-conscious, only because of my stretch marks." —Elizabeth, 31, Pennsylvania, sonographer

"I take photos from the weirdest sides or low angles to try to hide the stretch marks on my boobs. Or I do it in really dim lighting and pretend I'm purposely teasing them with a dark, blurry photo." —Brittany, 34, New York, medical sales

"I used to send my husband pics whenever he went away for work, but I haven't since having my baby earlier this year. Motherhood kinda sucks the sexiness out of you for a while." —Kristen, 35, California, consultant

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The Dark Side

"When I was really young, early high school, a guy I was flirting with asked for nudes. I felt really pressured, so I took one and sent it—my face wasn't in it, thank god—and he sent it around to everyone in my hometown. It was really awful and embarrassing and eventually my parents found out. Now, I don't send them very often—only if I'm in a committed relationship." —Caroline, 23, New York, public relations

"In the middle of a fight, a boyfriend threatened to send nudes to my dad. His exact words: 'This could be disrespectful, since that's your thing.' He didn't, but we broke up. Then I blocked him in every way possible." —Laura, 29, California, talent manager

"My freshman year of college, I was all over JuicyCampus with the nickname 'Biggest Slut in Kappa' because I'd drunkenly sent a guy in my dorm some very revealing photos one night. I don't even remember doing it. He showed his entire frat and I avoided parties there for two years. Fucking nightmare." —L., 27, Ohio, education

"Who cares if my photos were ever leaked? I'm not Beyoncé." —Kaydee, 25, Ohio, merchandiser

Opting Out

"I've never sent a nude pic, and all my friends think it's weird that I haven't. There was a girl in my high school that sent a million to her boyfriend with her leg literally over her head, vag out, and every guy had them on their computers. I'm so scarred from it, I don't think I'll ever send one!" —Alison, 26, Tennessee, music publishing

"Never been asked." —Lois, 64, California, film/TV production

"If a guy sends me nudes or asks me for nudes right away, I block ASAP. That's creepy." —Anna, 28, Washington, admin

"I'm way too uncomfortable with my body to ever send one. I don't even like looking at myself naked, so I definitely don't want someone else to. I'm still a virgin because of my insecurities, but I'm working on it." —Meg, 19, Indiana, student

On Empowerment

"Hell yes, [I feel empowered]. I have had lots of body issues surrounding weight and stretch marks and have had eating disorder issues in my past. I'm not in the perfect place, but I've slowly learned to claim my sexuality after being a virgin until 26 and love my body for what it is. As a woman, I know we are always scrutinized for being either too sexual or not sexual enough, so I'd rather just do what makes me happy." —Anna

"When I do send a nude it's because I'm proud of my body and feel sexy. I have never felt ashamed or self-conscious." —Michelle, 31, California, manager

"Every decision I make in regards to my sex life is a choice I've made for myself—not anyone else. I'd never send a nude if it were in a situation where I felt unsafe or unsure or uncomfortable. Sending nudes is an expression of my sexuality, and I feel it's incredibly empowering to express your sexuality in a way that's comfortable to you." —Maria, 28, New York, writer

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