The Pictures Never Go Away: What I wish I had understood about sexting

I was seventeen when a man asked me for pictures.  I’d love to say I don’t know what I was thinking, but the truth is, I knew exactly what I was thinking.

“I really don’t want to do this.”

There were several reasons.  Body image issues, insecurities, the fact that I had never been willingly naked in front of a man, the fact that I had a roommate who could come back at any moment, the fact that I was a new Christian from a conservative family.  I didn’t even know the guy who was asking for them.

But, I had already given him everything else.  He knew my name, my phone number, my address.  He had access to my school intraweb (because I had given it to him).  At the time, I believed he was who he said he was- a college student on the other side of the Mississippi.

As much as I didn’t want to give him the nude pictures he was asking for, I felt like I had to.  This was the next step on whatever hellish road I was walking, and I took it.

Fully 62 percent of teens and young adults say they have received a nude image—generally from a boyfriend or girlfriend. Forty percent have sent a nude image…

It’s a common problem- painfully common.  So much so, the folks at Barna Group have named it “Porn 2.0.”  The most common search leading people to my site right now has to do with sexting, specifically with girls being asked to send nude pictures.

I wish there were some more personal way to say “Don’t do it.  I’ve been there, it’s not worth it.”

If I could go back now and talk to that scared and lonely freshman in college.  It would be tempting to tell her all about grooming and the risk of being kidnapped for human trafficking.  It might make sense to tell her that, since she is underage, what she is doing is illegal.  I could launch into a mini sermon telling her about how much value she has in Christ.  I could warn her that when he gets those pictures and says, “You’re beautiful” it’s not going to make her feel any better about herself.

But if I could only make one argument to the seventeen-year-old me, and it’s the point I want to make to every young woman who comes here looking for advice in regards to sexting, it is this:

Those pictures never go away.  Ever.

I don’t know why that never occurred to me.  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I thought I was ‘destined’ for a life in pornography.  Maybe I was too trusting.  Maybe the fear of rejection kept me from being objective.  Maybe I was simply too immature to think all the way through.

Now, in my 30s and slowly entering the public eye, the biggest regret of my life is still those pictures.  It’s not because I’ll have to explain them to my husband or anything like that.  Anyone who has followed my story for any time knows about the fact that I’ve sent those pictures.  That’s not something I hide.

The problem is, those pictures now have a life of their own.  Sure, I made the choice to send them, but they can keep being sent long after I’ve asked for them to be deleted.  They can keep being used.  I no longer have control over who sees them, who uses them, who shares them, or what they do with them.

In a sense, I no longer have control over part of my body and part of my sexuality.  Somewhere out there someone could be using me right now.  I can’t explain to you how much I hate that.  I can’t explain to you how deeply I would be devastated if, for whatever reason, those somehow got pulled out of an old e-mail and distributed for the world.  I don’t want the world to see them.  I never wanted anyone to see them.

In a sense, I no longer have control over part of my body and part of my sexuality.  Somewhere out there someone could be using me right now.

I have read stories of girls in similar situations.  She posed once or twice in college to make a little extra money.  She got her life together, met a great guy, and was headed for the altar, when great guy’s best friend’s brother recognizes her and decides to pull up her pictures to show the boys.  Now everybody gets to see the bride, much to the groom’s dismay.

Or, she’s going for a job interview when the employee in the break room recognizes her and tells the boss.

Yes, you may change.  You may grow up.  You may just send them to your boyfriend.  You may think it’s no big deal.  It may make you feel important.  It may make you feel special.

But you need to understand this. It’s not empowering to send those photos. Quite the opposite.

Once you send them, they are immortal and you lose all power over them.

Think about that the next time you’re asked to give them.  Relationships will end.  Fads will end. People come and go, taking what they want, leaving the pieces they don’t.  Those pictures, though, will never go away.

You can find more of my story in my book, Beggar’s Daughter.