Is sexting illegal?

Sexting and sending nudes is not illegal by itself, but in some circumstances it can be. Yet, everyone does it without even thinking about the legal implications. Couldn’t be you. Make sure you understand the facts, and the law, to remove any confusion and stay safe online.

A young person is sexting.

It’s normal to experiment while you’re still figuring out your sexual identity. Thing is, when the digital world gets involved it becomes a hell of a lot more confusing. In the age of the internet, sexting is something you or your friends have probably heard of. But what does it involve, and how safe is it? We spoke to Ellie from Childnet, a charity that aims to make the internet a safe place for young people.

Ellie actually speaks to young people to make sure their voice are heard. Plus, she also works on Project deSHAME, which looks at tackling online sexual harassment among young people.

What is sexting?

‘Sexting’ describes texting/sharing sexual and sexually implied content. This content includes photos or videos of full or partial nudity and sexual images. The content could be shared between partners, peers or strangers. In case you’re wondering, sending nudes is most definitely a form of sexting.

How popular is sexting?

The world is basically digital right now, so it’s no surprise that more intimate elements of romantic relationships have followed suit. Our recent research found that 13% of 13-17s surveyed in the UK had sent nude or nearly nude images of themselves to a boyfriend/girlfriend. What’s more, 10% of them sent these images to someone that they weren’t in a relationship with.

Is sexting safe?

Sometimes it can feel easier to talk about sex through a chat, or share images online, rather than discussing it face to face. Like any big decision though, it’s important to really think about why you want to send an image or video. Even if you trust the person you’re sending it to, think about the ramifications of them having that image. Especially if the relationship doesn’t work out.

What are the risks of sexting?

We want to be very, very clear on this – it’s never ok to share someone’s nude or personal photo without their consent. It can be really upsetting for those involved. Even more so if the content is shared by someone they trusted. It may also have unforeseen consequences. For example, if future employers, universities, colleges, friends and family know that it’s online the person who took the photo may have their future put in danger.

If an image you sent does get shared without your consent – don’t blame yourself – it’s most definitely not your fault. The person who shared it has broken your trust. Your best course of action right now is to tell someone you trust. They’ll be able to help de-escalate the situation. You might even be a victim of revenge porn, which you can find out more about, as well as what to do if it has happened to you, in our full article on revenge porn here.

Is sexting illegal? Is it illegal to send nudes?

The question of whether sexting is illegal or if it’s illegal to send nudes largely depends on your age. If a young person under the age of 18 takes a sexually explicit image or video of themselves then they’ve unwittingly created child pornography. By sending this content on to another person, they’ve distributed an indecent image of a child. Equally, by receiving content of this kind, they’re in possession of an indecent image of a child. These acts are sexual offences which technically break the law. 

It’s also worth noting that if you’re over 18, and intimate images of you have been shared without consent, it’s considered revenge porn, which is illegal.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council of England, Wales and Northern Ireland have stated that young people engaging in sexting should not face prosecution as first time offenders. But that doesn’t mean you get off without consequences. The situation will be investigated to ensure that the young people involved are not at risk. Repeat offenders and more extreme cases are reviewed differently. 

However, with all the situations there’s a focus on avoiding prosecution unless absolutely necessary. That way a child’s livelihood isn’t put at risk for a potentially stupid mistake.

Don’t feel peer pressured into sexting

You should always feel like you have control of any photos or videos you take. No one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable, or do something that you haven’t explicitly consented to

On a lighter note, most research finds that it’s actually a minority of young people who take and share nudes of themselves – so if that doesn’t interest you in the slightest, you aren’t on your own!

When you’re struggling with a situation like this, it’s always best to speak to someone you trust about how you can say no. But we recognise that it can be hard to do. Luckily, the Zipit app helps you respond to unwanted chat or pressure through the power of GIFs!

If you feel pressured to ask others for nude images, think about the lasting effect it could have on them. Remember, movements like the #MeToo campaign show how important it is for everyone to fully and freely consent to any sexual activity before it takes place.

What to do if you’re worried about sexts or nudes you’ve sent

If you’ve ever sent something that you didn’t mean to or now regret – here’s how to deal with it: 

  • Stay calm and act quickly. If you’re worried about something that’s gotten out, the faster you act, the easier it is to manage the situation.
  • It’s really important to talk to someone and ask for help. Family, friends or professionals want to make sure you’re safe, but in order to do that they’ll have to know all the facts. Be completely honest – let them know what happened and how it’s making you feel.
  • If your image or video is posted on a social network, you can request for them to remove it. Be as specific as you can. For this to work, you’ll need to show that it breaks the site’s terms and conditions.
  • Don’t let the fear of getting in trouble stop you from reporting it. Any sexting-related law is there first and foremost to protect young people. The National Police Chiefs’ Council have stated that young people will be treated as victims. They believe that sexting should be dealt with on a case by case basis.
  • If you’re worried that you’ve been groomed or coerced into sending the content, you can make a report to CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection)
  • Check out this guide ‘So You Got Naked Online‘ from the UK Safer Internet Centre for more advice on sexting and what to do if it gets out of hand.
  • You can always use Childline and the Internet Watch Foundation’s Report Remove tool. This helps you to report an image or video shared online and see if it’s possible to get it removed. Once the report has been made, it keeps you updated on any progress and provides support and feedback where necessary.

What can I do if I see someone else’s nudes online?

We all have a responsibility to keep the internet safe. No one deserves to have an image or video shared without their permission. With that in mind, if you see anything on any social media platforms that you think would upset someone, make sure you do something about it. Sometimes the person affected may not feel like they can. Your support can make all the difference. So here’s how to help:

Next Steps

  • You can talk to Childline about anything. Call them for free on 0800 1111 or visit their website.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 24-Jun-2022