“That’s funny,” my friend said, pointing at an A frame sign that read ‘SEND NOODS’ outside a pasta bar in Washington, DC, “but it stresses me out.”
“Pasta?” I asked.
“No, nudes.” he said. “Well, maybe both.”
“Same,” I concurred.
Pasta and nudes (naked pictures of one’s self, typically, but not always taken for the purpose of being sent to another person), are perhaps two of life’s greatest simple pleasures. And both have the potential to bring great enjoyment, and in some instances are the source of a great deal of, as my mother would say, agita.
When the subject of nudes, or nudes themselves, have come up in conversation amongst my friends, typically at brunch, but occasionally at game night or book club, two camps have traditionally formed on the battlefront. To send or not to send? To share or not to share? The positions are as numerous as well, positions are numerous, but nevertheless folks seem to feel very strongly one way or the other. Some components of the conversation leave room for nuance, while others have a fairly definitive answer.
Each person is free to make their own decision. I have friends who are lawyers, and educators, baristas, and writers, entertainers, and clerics, at all levels of their respective fields, who have all knowingly and freely sent their nudes out into the world. What, you may ask, does it say about a professional who sends naked pictures of themselves either to a stranger, partner or potential partner? What it says is that they are a person responsible for their own bodily autonomy, who has decided they will make the rules about when and how their body is seen.
I, personally, am not a huge fan of sending nudes. Much like my friend said walking past the pasta bar, it just stresses me out. First and foremost, I do not love my body, a project I am working on every single day. Being in any level of undress, whether it is intimately with a partner, or taking my shirt off in front of strangers by a public pool, prompts varying levels of shame induced anxiety. When it comes to preserving my likeness, there are particular ways I prefer to be seen. Nudes, quite literally, strip all of that away.
“Do you think that affects your dating life?” a friend recently asked me when the topic came up. The short answer was, no, I don’t think it does. The longer answer was, maybe. No, because I have never found myself in a situation where someone has declined a date because I was unwilling to send them a naked picture of myself. And, if someone were to flat out refuse to grab a drink without the offering of a nude, that is probably not the person I would ultimately want to be in a relationship with. I say maybe, because it has, on a few occasions, inhibited the likelihood that someone is interested in hooking up.
Apps like Grindr and Scruff can be used to successfully network and date, but are maybe more likely employed for a hookup. And when someone is in the market for quick relations, as opposed to a relationship, it not unreasonable to ask to see what kind of situation they are walking into. It’s like online shopping. If you are ordering a shirt online, it is helpful to see what you are getting before it arrives so that you can be as sure as possible it is what you want. However, as we know is so often the case, you cannot be sure how that shirt will fit or feel until it arrives.
To share or not to share?
Here, I think, is where the answer is more definitive, and also where a large part of my hesitation in sending nudes comes from. On more than one occasion I have been with a group of people where the following scene has played out, in more or less the same way:
*Someone walks by*
Person one, to the group: “They’re really cute!”
Person two: “Oh, I ________ (hooked up with them once/used to talk to them on Grindr/etc.) I still have their pics. Here, look.”
*Person two pulls out their phone, and shows the group that person’s nudes*
Typically, the scene plays out uninterrupted. Occasionally, however, someone interjects with a question like, “Did they tell you it was OK to show other people those?” or “Do they know you still have those on your phone?” Rarely, if ever, has the response to that question been receptive to its intent. On the positive end of the spectrum, people fall silent, forced to confront the reality of something we all too frequently ignore. On the negative end, the response has been, “They knew what they were doing when they sent them.” or, “If they didn’t want anyone else to see them they shouldn’t have put them out there in the first place.” I have sometimes interrupted the scene, but too regularly I have also been complicit in a situation I would have been more than upset to find out I was the subject of.
It could be said that with great nudes comes great responsibility. However, I think that great responsibility can be summed up with one word. Ask. It is unacceptable to walk up to a stranger on the street, pull down your pants, and reveal yourself to them -- to flash a real life nude, if you will. Why then, is it so commonplace to send a naked picture of any part of your body, without the viewer’s consent? If some variation of, “Hey, want to see a picture of me naked?” feels like too awkward of a conversation to have, then perhaps you have no business sending a picture of yourself to begin with. And if asking someone if you have their permission to save that picture on your phone, or show other people a picture that was sent to you individually, is also too awkward, perhaps you need to delete it once you’re doing looking at it yourself.
The idea that anyone who has ever taken and or sent a naked picture of themselves consents to having that picture shown to anyone but the intended recipient, is ridiculous, ill informed, and demonstrates a basic lack of knowledge surrounding consent. The same can be said of the notion that someone’s presence on any dating site inherently means they are amenable to receiving naked pictures. Certainly, there are people who have no qualms about having their nudes passed around a brunch, and to those individuals, I say brava. To those who are perhaps a bit more sheepish, I applaud you as well.
Nudes, like pizza, are wonderful things to enjoy with consenting partners and strangers alike. In the spirit of keeping nudes wonderful, it’s time we all start making sure we’re on the same page about how they are sent and shared. After all, the gift of pizza, when desired, can be a welcomed gift. However, if you pass mine around without asking when I go to the bathroom, I promise I won’t be happy when I get back.