Dear Level

A Foolproof Guide to Sending Nudes

We’ve all sent at least one. Here’s how to make sure yours only reaches its intended recipient.

In the early ’90s, my boyfriend often borrowed his parents’ camcorder to tape athletic events at our Division I school. This thing was practically the size of a rifle. You had to hoist the device onto your shoulder and balance to see through the viewfinder. It recorded onto full-size VHS cassettes, with enough batteries and cords to make it an ergonomic nightmare — all for footage that was grainy, pixelated, and not much better than your mind’s eye.

During the school year, my boyfriend and I crisscrossed campus, spending the night at each other’s place when our schedules allowed. But in the summer, while we were both living with our parents, we had to improvise, which meant scraping money together from our summer jobs to get a hotel room.

The next morning, back at my parents’ home, I was putting away laundry when the idea struck me: There was a recording out there of me in my underwear dancing to “Rumpshaker.”

On one of those Friday nights, he picked me up and I noticed the huge black camera bag in the backseat of his car.

“Why are you bringing that,” I asked.

“Why not?” he replied.

An hour later, I’m doing some incredibly awkward sexytime poses in a grungy hotel room off the New Jersey Turnpike. He can barely hold up the camera, has no idea what he’s doing, and has to stop to recharge the battery. I’m annoyed, not feeling sexy at all. But it’s totally consensual, and somewhere in there is even a little bit of humor.

The next morning, back at my parents’ home, I was putting away laundry when the idea struck me: There was a recording out there of me in my underwear dancing to “Rumpshaker.”

I called my boyfriend to find out the whereabouts of the tape. He swore to me it was safe and sound beneath his bed. “If I tell you to destroy it,” I asked, “will you do it?”

He said yes.

Later, I’d find out that his fingers were crossed.

A year or so passed. We’d broken up by this point, so I checked in with him about getting that VHS. First, he said he’d lost it. Then, he said he actually hadn’t misplaced it, he just wouldn’t give it up. He’d later pivot back to the tape being lost. This runaround went on for years. And in my young adulthood, I kept thinking: What if that tape gets out! I’m trying to be a high school teacher!

Now, where did this go wrong? Even though this was 25 years ago, the same rules applied as they do today. And I broke all of them.

1. Set ground rules beforehand

This commandment applies whether you’re shooting with a pro-level rig on your shoulder or the palm-sized supercomputer in your pocket. Before you receive or send any photo you don’t want your enemy (or mom) to see, have a conversation about nudes and videos with your partner. If the person in question isn’t your partner, think twice (or thrice). Is it worth it? If so, sext on! But beware of what may happen if things end badly between the two of you.

As is the case with all of the riskiest — and thus most fun — sexytime stuff, the beforehand conversation is decidedly not sexy. But it must be done. Ask your partner where the footage will be stored, how long they can keep them, etc. You should literally spell out “no screenshots” or “no sharing,” just to be super clear. In my case, as a young rumpshaker, I should have just said no when I saw the camcorder in the car. I should have asked details about where the tape would be afterward. Or better yet, I should have taken it myself.

2. Steer clear of the cloud

In the ’90s, of course, things were mostly analog. But I had just as little control over that recording as you I would today if I were using cloud sharing services. Remember the 2014 iCloud hack? Of course you do. If you use DropBox or Google Photos or any similar service, you’re running the risk of any naughty bits you send being hacked and distributed. There’s a workaround, though. Turn off sync on your photos, send the pic or video in question, delete it from your own device, then reenable backup. (And make sure your partner does the same.) Sure, it’s tedious, but it’s worth it to keep your recreation of Lil Cease’s debut album artwork from going viral.

3. Crop out your face

This is a step you can take to ensure that if your nudes are compromised, no one will be able to pair the privates with the person. And while I totally support that choice, my own boo can save the bandwidth. If I wanted headless torsos and unidentified penis pics, I’d just watch porn.

Speaking of which: My college boyfriend told me he was going to shoot me from the neck down. He lied.

4. Encrypt that shit

You might feel like you need a degree in computer engineering just to save nudes safely. That’s because cloud services are so intuitive that we’re spoiled. On background processes alone, all our pictures are not only uploaded safely but categorized by time, date, and place. Some will even turn a group of photos into a mini-movie because why not? Well, that’s great for the 3,000 photos of pre-pandemic brunches you have on your phone right now. But for explicit pics, you have to at least know one important term: end-to-end encryption, which is exactly what it sounds like. Only you and the recipient can see what’s being sent. Search for programs and apps with that feature and you’re one step closer to sexting hygiene.

5. Embrace the trash can

In case you haven’t figured it out yet: Delete the pics. Immediately. Oh, you absolutely have to keep them? Delete anyway! Okay, fine. I get it: Your pecs may never look that ripped again. Save them to an external hard drive that isn’t connected to the internet. But for chrissakes, delete them off of your networked personal device!

So, you want to know what happened to my 15 minutes of clumsily dancing to Wreckx-n-Effect? I want to know, too. The ex-boyfriend and I each moved around and lost touch. Eventually, I forgot all about it.

One day, when I was moving many years ago, I found an envelope of photos. I had completely forgotten that there were also still photos involved that he’d given to me. I looked him up, reached out, and after some pleasantries, I asked him: Where’s the tape?

He laughed, apologized profusely for the previous mind games, and said the tape was long gone. Really. He’d destroyed it once he reached an age when he developed common sense and decency. And had a few daughters of his own.

I believe him. And honestly? I’m kinda disappointed. My body was sick. And I looked kind of sexy — especially if you like braces.

Aliya S. King is an author, freelance writer and editor.

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