Sending Nudes has Become the Norm

Sending Nudes has Become the Norm

Sending nudes has become the norm among youth today. This revelation should be no surprise.

The everchanging tides of how youth communicate and have relationships has become inextricably linked to technology.

It has also become clear that youth need to be made aware of what could happen when they share explicit images of themselves, also known as self-generated child sexual abuse materials (SG-CSAM).

It is important to note that scare tactics don’t work. It is also important to note that shaming is harmful, especially if that image is reshared without consent.

Gauging the attitudes of young people around sending nudes and the attitudes of caregivers has the capacity to outline the scope of the issue and how to address it through the avenues of harm reduction that also works within the community in which the youth are living.

In communities that are reticent to support comprehensive sex education, addressing this issue will look much different than it would in communities that have implemented sex education curriculum that highlights consent, healthy relationships and gender sensitivity.

It is important to recognize what community the youth is living in to be equipped to address sending self-generated child sexual abuse materials effectively.

The Numbers

 According to a 2020 report “Self-Generated Child Sexual Abuse Material: Attitudes and Experiences” released by Thorn, an anti-human trafficking organization that works to address the sexual exploitation of children, 1 in 5 girls ages 13-17 have shared their own nudes; 1 in 10 boys ages 13-17 shared images of themselves with 40% of survey respondents agreeing that sending nudes is normal.

These numbers alone really speak to the nature of the acceptability of sexting, sending nudes (SG-CSAM).

And while sharing explicit images of themselves (which is illegal and falls under the child pornography penal code) does not seem like a big issue to youth, it is when those images are re-shared without consent or those images are coerced through grooming where the harm takes effect.

One in 5 kids report seeing non-consensually shared images with 1 in 10 youth saying they have been the ones to share it. It is what happens after that image is re-shared where the incredible harm lies.

Nonconsensual Sharing

According to “Nonconsensual Image Sharing: One in 25 Americans Have Been a Victim of Revenge Porn” report, “Nonconsensual image sharing, also commonly called ‘revenge porn,’ is when someone shows, sends, or posts nude or nearly nude photos or videos of someone else without the consent of the person pictured. In some cases, the images are created consensually, such as when romantic partners take pictures for each other or together.”

Once those images are reshared, that young person can suffer from loss of trust, self blame, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and low self-confidence.

Another aspect of SG-CSAM is that it is sometimes produced by youth who are being groomed online by predators.

On a larger scale, youth are less likely to share explicit images of themselves with someone they have never met, however that doesn’t necessarily mean they will not.

Predators go online to groom potential victims for several end results.

One desired result of a predator or trafficker is to entice the victim away from home for the purpose of sexual gratification or exploitation. A cornerstone of that grooming process is to develop trust through building a false relationship.

Oftentimes that relationship includes the normalization of the exchange of explicit images, which begins with the predator sharing images of themselves or who the victim believes is them.

Once that image of the youth is received the predator uses that for sexual gratification, uploads it to pornography sites for profit or uses that image to exert control over the youth through threatening exposure.

While youth are becoming more comfortable with sending and receiving nudes, it is apparent that it makes them more vulnerable to predatory behavior.  

Caregiver Attitudes

Frankly, caregiver attitudes and community supports are the guiding factors in whether youth practice internet use safely but also whether they disclose their harmful online experiences.

Caregiver attitudes toward sending nudes/sexting is actually pretty similar to youth ideas. According to the Thorn study, 26% of women caregivers have sent nudes of themselves and 40% of male caregivers have.

The caregivers’ and community’s views on blame are the crux of whether the victim of a nonconsensual reshare reaches out for help. Most caregivers report they mostly or exclusively blame the person in the photo (55%) if it is reshared.

If the photo is leaked, then caregivers are least likely to focus on the re-sharer.

Victim-blaming, which is what these percentages represent, is a detriment to youth, especially if they have been victimized.

Until we are able to shift a culture away from victim-blaming and towards a culture of consent, youth sharing SG-CSAM will present communities and caregivers with a complex problem.

What to do:

Create an Open Line of Communication

An open line of communication is incredibly important when talking to youth about sharing explicit images. If the youth a person is caring for trusts them, they are more likely to go to them if something goes wrong, if they are being bullied or if they have questions.

Talk About Boundaries, Consent and Healthy Relationships

Begin the process early to teach youth about healthy relationships, maintaining boundaries, and consent. Making sure youth are familiar with these terms and what practicing these things in daily life looks like will reduce perpetration and victimization around nonconsensual sharing of explicit images.

Click to register for this session geared toward caregivers

Don’t Use Scare Tactics

Scare tactics don’t work. Be honest with youth, of course, about the likelihood of this image getting reshared and the dangers of online grooming. Give them practical and honest guidance.

Avoid Blame and Shame

Avoiding shaming language is important, as well as victim blaming language. If youth believe they will get in trouble or hurt their peers by disclosing abuse, they won’t come forward for help.

Access Services When Non-consensual Share Occurs

The toll on having an explicit image shared is large. Youth need to be connected to support services to help them cope with the mental health affects around this type of victimization.

Click to register for this session geared toward caregivers


To be abundantly clear, exchanging child sexual abuse materials (child pornography) is a crime, and just because it is self-generated doesn’t make the exchange any less of a crime. That doesn’t mean that youth should be punished to the full extent.

There is debate on whether consensual exchanges of explicit images among YOUTH should be prosecuted, as entry into the criminal justice system presents youth with its own harms.

Nonconsensual exchanges, however, falls less inside of a grey area – it is commonly known as revenge porn. In North Carolina, minors can be charged for non-consensually sharing explicit images.

Some remain skeptical about how much law enforcement can help when a disclosure of nonconsensual sharing occurs.

Law enforcement may not be the silver bullet to the issue of SG-CSAM exchanged among youth.

Exchanges of SG-CSAM with an adult, however, is a crime that should be reported and investigated. That is absolutely grooming and child sexual abuse. If you suspect this happening, call local law enforcement immediately and report it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

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