Sharing your nudes has become standard practice for gay men in the age of dating apps. You are just as likely to show a picture of your penis as you are to discuss your hopes and dreams for the future. Unless your hopes and dreams for the future are a penis. However, the ease of uploading and sharing your most scintillating pics to any platform with an image sharing function (see: dating apps, all social media platforms, websites, forums etc) can bring out a dark side. Images get saved and shared, often without the consent of the picture or video’s subject. It can be damaging. Not only to reputation but to someone’s mental health, let alone a huge breach of trust and privacy.

We surveyed over 200 people and 46% said that they have had a private sexual photo shared of them without their consent. We take a look into how, why and where private images have been leaked and the impact it can have.


HOW IT CAN HAPPEN

In a time where will all use social media, dating apps and websites, forums and any platform with a private message function, how can someone’s private images get ‘leaked’ to the world?

“I was at a hook-up and near the end the guy told me he had seen a video of me on some website. Apparently, it was recorded secretly as I had never done such a thing. I think I knew who did it at the time, but he wouldn’t tell me the website and I didn’t have a way to contact the guy who did it. A while after this, I had heard of other guys secretly filming or having webcams on during a hook-up without telling the other guy,” Joe, 41, from the Midlands tells us.

“I’ve often let my guard down due to being drunk or high during hook-ups and I’ve allowed people to film me. I’m aware these have been shared but it’s been limited and not done to expose me publicly,” says Adam, 46, from north east England.

“First, I had one guy use my pics to set up a Facebook profile, although these weren’t naked as I was wearing underwear. Another one was on a dating app in Colombia. The guy had naked pics of me that a friend saw and luckily, he contacted the guy and threatened him with legal action. The next day the profile had gone,” explains William, 61, from south west England.

Often, revenge can be the motivator for someone releasing your pictures.

“I had an ex who, when we broke up, made a fake Grindr profile and started sending my nudes to people. He would send our videos to people on WhatsApp and he uploaded one to Facebook,” Stephen, 23, from Wales tells us.

“When I broke up with my boyfriend he took it upon himself to get revenge,” explains Matt, 23, from London. “He achieved this by sending an email to me, my parents and my boss, stating he was worried about me which featured a forged Grindr profile and naked pictures of me in compromising positions. He also uploaded the pictures to Tumblr. Luckily both my boss and my parents were understanding. I worked with vulnerable children and adults at the time so it really could’ve cost me everything.”

Sometimes the sharing of images without the person’s permission can take a darker turn.

“I was threatened and in a weakened state of mind when mine were leaked. I shared a video of me doing sexual things nude with someone, and then he sent it to a friend. I don’t know if he sent it to anyone else but I do remember him threatening me and my friend, that if we didn’t send him more he’d find us and kill us and our families,” says Dallas from the US.

“Naked photos were taken, then shared for hook-up reasons and were sometimes used by others to attract attention - maybe I should be flattered - or to defame me. Eventually, some were sent to my place of work and I lost my job,” explains Jay, 47, from Scotland.

Images can be shared without a person’s consent even if they may seem more relaxed about their own nudity. 

“I was 18. My university boyfriend and I had smoked a bit too much weed and made the exceptional decision to go live on Cam4 and perform oral sex on one another. We had 3000 viewers watching us, on what we believed to be a one-time, live stream. The next day I got a rude awakening when my boyfriend discovered that the video had been captured and was now appearing on porn websites under the title ‘twin brothers hook up’. We quickly devised a plan to email two of the largest websites, claiming that the ‘actors in the video’ were both 17 and therefore underage. The videos were quickly removed, but are sure to still exist somewhere in the universe on the computers of sexual deviants unknown to us,” says Calum, 28, from London.

“First you need a bit of context,” explains Jack, 36, from north east England. “I’d done a bit of gay porn some years ago, and occasionally since then I’ve done a naked photo shoot or three. But I always expect such images to stay in the gay world, perhaps naively. I’m comfortable with images of me naked being shared obviously given my history, but twice it has leaked into my everyday life, and my former professional life as a teacher. The first occasion was right after I did my first porn film, not long after quitting my job as a teacher. Once the DVD got released and the trailers went out online, another staff member, also gay and notorious for being a terrible gossip, blabbed the whole thing to all the staff at the educational institution.

“I only heard about this some years later, and it explained why the institution suddenly stopped providing other respective employers with references, which made it hard for me to get work. Although it’s easy to blame me and say, ‘well you shouldn’t have done gay porn’, it’s quite a thing to blab that around and show people lots of pictures, upload some of them to Facebook and even tag me in them! Needless to say he was blocked from all social media.

“I have no regrets about doing gay porn. It was a fun experience, but I regret ever befriending that guy with zero discretion! The other time was last year. I suspect it was one of perhaps several guys where I was arranging a hook-up on Grindr, where they asked for lots of pics, and who eventually ended up flaking on me. I went for a photo shoot with a photographer last year and he asked whether I knew my photos were all over various sites including XTube and Tumblr. These weren’t anything from my porn days, but recent pics and vids of me naked and having sex. All identifiably me. Again, I suppose you could judge me for sharing these with strangers on Grindr, but I ask: is there no discretion between gay people any more? I could perhaps be more guarded about my naked images but frankly I like the sense of liberation I have in my life.”

Ian Howley, Chief Executive of LGBTQ HERO said, “Gay men have been sharing naked images of themselves for decades. However, in a Insta-age we are seeing the impact of screenshots and screen recordings. We should expect that when we send a nude to a potential hook-up that they have the courtesy not to share it with others. Just because you share your pictures or videos with another person, does not mean you give up ownership of these images. But let’s get this right. Sharing someone’s nudes or videos without their consent is all about power. When you send someone a pic or video or when they screenshot your images, it’s all about control and power. It makes the person on the other end of the phone feel like they have something over you. How you feel about what they do with those images doesn’t matter to them. When they share them with others or online, they are not doing it to hurt you, but to feel a sense of inner power. Most know it’s wrong or illegal but the rush they get from doing it outweighs any logical thinking. In other words, they do it because they can and feel there won’t be any consequences.”

THE IMPACT

Having your private and intimate pictures or videos shared without your consent can have both immediate and long-lasting effects on a person’s life and their mental health.

“It was pretty awful, especially as I had no way to contact the guy who did the filming,” says Joe, 41.

“I tried to reach him on his profile on the website where we met, but he didn’t respond. Eventually I had to accept that it was out there, and I kind of felt that maybe it wasn’t quite so horrifying if it was on some website that I couldn’t find. The guy didn’t know my real name or identifying information, and there was nothing I could do. But it’s still pretty awful to think about. What gets me is that there are guys who are into exhibitionism who would be up for filming or webcams if you asked them, but it’s pretty creepy to have hidden cameras in your flat to record your hook-ups and then post them online.”

“Afterwards I felt depressed. I tried to kill myself last June. I took an overdose and if it wasn’t for my mum hearing my floor rattle and having a fit, she never would have come to my room,” Stephen, 23, from Wales confides to us.

“It was a huge game changer for me. I’d never really valued my privacy until I felt that my privacy was no longer in my control,” says Calum, 28.

“I felt like I’d lost ownership of my own body. However, now I view it as an empowering change. The worst has already happened to me so I’m very body positive and not shy but it was absolutely horrible as an experience. The chats with my boss and parents after were mortifying,” says Matt, 23.

“I was devastated. But you don’t have a leg to stand on. If you don’t want something to be seen; don’t share it online. Losing my job lost me my house and mental health for four years or so. I’m just coming out of it now. After losing my job I had nothing going on in my life, so I fell even deeper into the chaos of hook-up culture and chemsex. But I’ve now pulled myself out of that and I want to put clear water between my new life and what I used to do. I don’t even meet guys or have apps now. I’m lonely, isolated, sexually frustrated, but a lot safer,” says Jay, 47.

Despite having their privacy violated, some people see it as just a symptom of modern gay life.

“I wasn’t too upset. I was more annoyed that some people have the cheek to do it. But my worry was that other guys would and do get taken in by these false profiles,” says William, 61.

“I shared my image originally and then a friend screen shot it and reshared. I’m not too upset as I had posted it originally and put it on social media,” explains Al, 51, from south east England.

“To be honest it’s happened to me so many times it’s just an inconvenience of being on social media,” Ashley from London tells us. “On one hand it’s kind of flattering as someone thinks you’re that attractive, that they want to use your pics, but equally it’s outrageous to try and use other peoples pics especially when its on dating apps because at some point if you arrange a meet they are going to find out.”

However, some people even enjoyed the attention it brought them.

“I felt excited about others seeing me naked,” says Cameron from London.

“I had a random hook-up with three men and one took pictures of me. I was slightly chuffed, but on the whole not bothered,” says Keran, 38, from north east England.

Ian Howley, Chief Executive of LGBTQ HERO says: “Research has shown that when someone shares your nudes online or with others it’s a similar feeling to being groped or sexually assaulted. The feeling of being violated or exposed can have a huge negative effect on those whose images and videos are being shared. And what we see are similar consequences, in relation to someone experiencing sexual assault, with lots of gay men going through depression, self-worth issues and even suicide attempts. And this is what’s not being talked about.”

Ian adds, “Consent is just as important when it comes to images of you as it is when you have sexual contact with someone. When someone violates that consent it can impact your self-esteem and self-worth. It’s important that victims of revenge porn are treated the same way as someone who has been sexually assaulted.”

SHARING AND TRUST

Does having your private images leaked change the way you now share pictures of yourself?

“This incident happened about ten years ago,” Joe, 41, explains, “and I have since become aware of a lot of other sites where guys can post homemade sex videos. Not just public sites like Pornhub or XTube, but sites where you have to log-in. But once you post those videos, they can be downloaded and posted to public sites or Tumblr (well at least until the end of last year). So, I have just not been keen to be part of that very public sharing of myself and my encounters. With naked pics, it is a bit different. But I have been more reluctant in the last year or so, now it seems so many guys on hook-up apps/sites just expect you to switch to Whatsapp straightaway. I have had several guys that get on to WhatsApp and then expect you to send loads of pics immediately. Sometimes they will send two to three dozen pics, including naked sex pics and videos, even though we have barely spoken on the hook-up app. It is one thing to have naked pics on an app or on a website, but I am not keen to be just texting them to random dudes, who then have them in their phones and can do what they like. I think we as gay guys tend to be too trusting of others who we have not met in person and barely know, other than a few messages on an app or from the minimal texts/pics in their profile.”

“I think it depends on the context. Sharing a nude photo that doesn’t include your face with a potential partner or hook-up is very different to subjecting yourself to full frontal sexual acts streamed to strangers around the world,” thinks Calum, 28.

“I realised that I made it so easy for me to be hacked. I had all these photos and videos with my full face in them sitting on my computer where I thought they would be safe. You hear about this happening to celebrities, but it happens to everyone. The thing that ruined me was my face being in each photo, smiling. Now I don’t put my face in them. Just in case. I will never be the same and will always be suspicious of anyone,” says Gabe, 19, from the US.

WOULD YOU DO IT?

We asked whether you have ever shared someone else’s private photos or videos without them knowing. 17% of people who responded to the survey said yes.

“I have, but mostly just for fun with close friends. Sometimes I do with other hook-ups as a way of comparing sexual histories,” says Adam, 46, from north east England.

“It’s hard to say – perhaps I share them to impress my friends or to seek their approval,” ponders Calum from London.

“Usually, if I think a friend would like someone I’ve seen online, I will send it to them. I’m also a member of a WhatsApp group which shares videos of porn and I would share these with people if I thought they’d like them,” says Nick, 31, from London.

“I was high in a chemsex group and trying to attract new participants by showing who was already taking part,” says Jay from Scotland.

“I shared them because they were in the public domain at the time,” explains Jonathan, 23, from London.

Ian Howley of LGBTQ HERO said: “We know that sometimes people don’t think of the impact of sharing someone else's nudes online will have. But first of all, when you share someone’s images or videos without their consent, this is called revenge porn and it is illegal.  You could be in serious trouble which could include jail time. If someone sends you images of themselves you should think twice before you screen grab or save them. Not only for your own wellbeing but because you don’t want to impact the wellbeing of those in the pictures.”

REGRETS?

Do they have any regrets about sharing the images?

“As far as I know no one has been hurt. I’ve never done it maliciously and I never would,” says Adam, 46.

“The nude was already on the internet, so I feel like the person wouldn’t have cared,” says Dallas.

“It’s strange. I have no problem sharing naked photos of other people, although the thought of the same thing being done to me is terrifying. It’s a double standard among gay men,” believes Calum, 28.

“If you receive a file from a WhatsApp group or online with someone naked or doing sexual things you can assume it’s fine to share around. Also, if you don’t know the person, it’s hard to feel guilty,” says Nick, 31.

IS IT EVER OK TO SHARE?

“Even with permission, I think you would almost have to agree where it is going to be posted. I would pretty much always expect to have that discussion if their face is visible. If it is just other body parts and there aren’t identifying marks like tattoos, then I don’t think it is as much of an issue, although I would always prefer to have a discussion,” thinks Joe, 41.

“So many nude photos are shared on Grindr now, that it’s deemed part of the process. I’ve never shared a naked picture, and people on Grindr assume I’m either lying (either about never sharing or lying about my body in some way). So, in that sense, people sharing them with relative strangers is perhaps naive. But it doesn’t grant permission to others to share. Something can be both naive by one person’s standards and wrong by another,’s” says Craig, 28 from Wales.

“They shouldn’t have allowed it in the first place. Assuming it was consensual at the time,” believes Keran, 38.

“They sent that to you under the conditions that it was for you alone, even if they did send that same photo to other people. It’s not your photo to use for your own purposes,” says Connor, 25 from Ireland.

WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT SHARING IMAGES?

Revenge porn is illegal in England and Wales, meaning that uploading or sharing intimate pictures or videos without the subject’s consent can lead to a prison term.

However, many people don’t know this or don’t come forward out of fear or embarrassment. Some even see it as a normal consequence of gay life.

Ian Howley concludes: “It’s important that gay men understand that it’s perfectly OK to share images and videos of yourself with others or online. If you feel empowered to, then fair play to you. But it’s not OK to share images and videos of others online for your own amusement or sexual pleasure without their consent. It may give you a sense of power or make you feel superior but it can have a negative impact on the person in those images or videos. We are asking you to think twice and think how it would make you feel if your nudes were shared online for everyone to see.”


STATS:

WE ASKED: Has anyone ever shared a naked picture or video of you without your permission?

  • 46% said yes
  • 54% said no.

WE ASKED: Are you now more reluctant to share naked pictures of yourself?

  • 62% said yes
  • 29% said no
  • 9% were unsure.

WE ASKED: Who leaked your photos?

  • 35% said a hook-up
  • 27% said and ex
  • 21% said a friend
  • 17% said a stranger
  • 10% said a social media follower
  • 4% said a current partner.

WE ASKED: Where was it shared?

  • 62% said on a gay sex app
  • 45% said by WhatsApp or message
  • 38% said in person
  • 31% said on social media
  • 24% said a porn site
  • 17% said on a blog/website
  • 10% said by email
  • 10% said on a forum.

Read all the article from FS #170: