Photo by Caroline McNally

Dear Roe,

I’ve been in a long-distance relationship for a couple of months. We’ve been talking about ways to stay intimate, phone sex, Skype sex, that kind of thing. But there’s a catch. I see stories now and then about online stuff that’s meant to be secret turning out not to be so secret – NSA, vengeful exes, whatever. I’m the kind of guy that likes to keep a plaster over the camera on my laptop, so I have a hard time imagining wanking in front of it. Any advice?

Dear Reader,

You ready, baby? I’m about to talk techy to you.

Well, a little bit. Admittedly, I do not have the same (justified) paranoia regarding tech as you do, so there is going to be some research that you’ll have to do on your own, but I’ll give you some suggestions.

My lack of paranoia, incidentally, isn’t that I don’t agree with you – I do know that agencies like the NSA tap and store photos of people, I know that hackings happen, I know that some exes are terrible garbage people who do outrageous and abusive things like uploading private photos to the internet or sharing them around.

I just personally don’t really care, to be honest. I think the NSA has done much more troublesome things than looked at some photos of people naked – because I don’t think being naked is troublesome.

So if some sad little men in a government office want to get their rocks off by looking at illegally stored photos of me naked every now and then – well, the joke’s on them, because I’m a bloody sex columnist, and I’ll just admit it here and now: I have tits and a vagina and I’ve let people do sexy things to both.

So, frankly, confirming those facts via photos isn’t really going to shock anyone.

Also, the joke’s on them because I haven’t done squats in ages so my ass is looking far from ideal right now. Enjoy it if you can, fellas!

But more on that later. (The risk aspect, I mean, not my ass.)

There are some basic tips and tricks you can stick to while sharing sexting photos, videos or chats.

You can anonymise your photos and videos easily by keeping your face out of frame and covering any distinguishing tattoos or scars. Don’t forget your background too – if you’re always sending photos or videos from your bedroom, there are probably a lot of details in the background of your photos that could easily identify it as your room. Turning the camera so your now-headless self is just against a plain wall is the safest bet.

You can blur or pixelate identifying details (or certain body parts, if you prefer to tease than reveal all) with apps like Pixelote or Nudifier.

Then there’s the trickier stuff: the metadata.

Many photos taken on camera phones come with a lot of information attached, including the time, date, and location of where they were taken, which you may want to avoid. Editors like Photo Exif Editor can remove this information to give you more privacy and control over your information.

Apps like Snapchat were initially hugely popular for sending sexting photos because the images disappear after being viewed – however, photos sent via Snapchat can be screenshot by the person you’ve sent them to – and the company has revealed that they can store your images for unspecified amounts of time.

So, sticking with apps that offer total encryption for messages and photos seem to be the way to go. Apps like Signal allow for encrypted messages, while Wickr also uses end-to-end encryption and destroys photos after they’ve been seen.

Confide also adds in an extra layer of protection, as it doesn’t show the full photo at once; receivers have to scroll down the image, which makes it harder for them to store the entire photo in any way.

If you really want to commit, you and your partner could also get cheap, sexting-only burner phones so the images and chats can’t easily be traced back to you.

However, it’s important to remember that none of these methods are foolproof in ensuring that your private photos and messages will never be saved or shared. People can open photographs and messages in full view of other people, and they can also record incoming messages using another phone or camera.

I say this not to scare you, but to make you see that every expression of your sexuality via technology carries some risk – which brings us to the question of what that risk actually is.

First of all, regarding you specifically – you’re a man, so you’re automatically in less danger of being shamed for your sexual exploits than women are. Hell, ask any woman who has ever used an online dating site and we’ll tell you of a man who sent us a photo of his genitals without consent or solicitation – and sadly, none of those men have experienced any major consequence.

The only time people pay attention to photos of your junk being released is if you’re a man with political power, and as we’ve seen with Anthony Weiner, even then no one really cares. You get to keep your career (and wife, the first 5 million times.)

On the flip side, look at the number of women who have had their private photos hacked, spread across the internet, and have been harassed and shamed for it. Look at Kim Kardashian – the sex tape of her and Ray J was leaked without her permission, and she is still slut-shamed about it to this day.

Has anyone ever shamed Ray J for that tape?? I think not. Nor do I think that so-called “revenge porn” sites are targeting men, in the vast majority of cases. No, when private photos are released, it’s largely the women who suffer, so you’re probably safe.

Misogyny, my old friend, we meet again.

Secondly, let’s examine what the risk actually is, at its most basic, when sexting photos are released. The risk is essentially that other people know that you’re a sexually active person, and get to see your body.

Now, I’m not underestimating the violation that occurs when others get to see nude photos/videos without the subject’s consent; that’s terrible, and I believe that those who share or seek out private nude photos are committing a form of sexual abuse.

(Do you hear that, everyone who “just had a look” at the leaked photos of Jennifer Lawrence and co.? You’re the ones creating the demand for hacked and leaked photos, and are complicit in the sexual violation of those women.)

However. Most people either know or assume that the majority of adults are sexually active, and that we have bodies.

So really, when that’s confirmed via photos? Who the fuck cares? Really? It Should. Not. Matter. But we make it matter, by flocking to view the photos, by acting like sexual expression is shameful and embarrassing, and not something that most of the adult population of the world engages in.

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take any precautions about sharing sexting photos. Because there are consequences, and so by all means, use the tips and tricks above.

But to truly eliminate the risk of the potential shame of sexting materials being leaked, we have to stop perpetuating the shame by ceasing to see sex and bodies as shameful; and we have to stop creating demand for these photos by looking at other people’s photos when they’re non-consensually shared or leaked online.

We all have bodies. Most of us have sex. It’s time we copped the fuck on, stopped acting like that’s a shameful, shocking secret, and just respected each other enough not to look when not invited.


Dear Roe,

I’ve started going to the gym as a new year thing. I wanna look the part too, but when I see the tight leggings that all the other girls are wearing I can only think: thrush?! They can’t be good, right?

Dear Reader,

I’m going to lay it out here now: I’m personally against fashionable gym clothes. I genuinely hate it, as a concept.

I think most trendy gym clothes are too expensive and often don’t come in bigger sizes, promoting a classist and sizist atmosphere in gyms – places that are often inherently classist anyway – which makes fitness itself seem elitist, and therefore intimidating to many.

We shouldn’t have to look good to go to the goddamn gym, and this new trend of transforming your workout into a competitive catwalk is just horrible.

This is not, however, an excuse to shame women who wear make-up to the gym, which seems to be a lovely pastime amongst some men these days. Women have places to go, and doing make-up takes time, so maybe they don’t want to take it and put it all back on again after an hour.

Maybe they feel self-conscious without it, thanks to your bullshit “make-up is false advertising” and “make her go swimming on the first date” memes. Maybe it’s nothing to do with you at all, and so you should shut up and pay attention to your own bloody workout because we wouldn’t want you to accidentally fall off a treadmill and break your self-centred judgmental ass.

I digress. My point is, if you want to wear cute outfits to the gym to motivate yourself, do your thing. But don’t do it to try compete with other women, and if you prefer to wear looser sweatpants or shorts, do that!

If you do want to wear tighter leggings, and are worried about thrush, there are things you can do to minimise the risk.

Thrush, to the fortunately uninitiated, is a common vaginal yeast infection caused by a strain of fungus called candida albicans. Excesses of candida albicans can result in thrush, which most commonly presents as itching, rashes or heavy vaginal discharge.

Yeast microorganisms thrive and grow in warm, moist conditions, so the combination of tight clothing, body temperature-increasing exercise and perspiration can make thrush an unfortunate side-effect of working out.

If you want to spend a quid or two, you can get specialised workout clothes that “breathe” and prevent the build-up of moisture that can cause thrush. This piece on workout clothes recommends brands with fabrics that contain polypropylene, such as Coolmax and Supplex, which “wick” away sweat and moisture and can thus help prevent thrush.

Wearing silk or “wicking” underwear can alleviate some of the risk of thrush, if you want to splash out on a few pairs for your workouts. You can also apply a slightly greasy moisturiser to your pelvis and vagina, which can help generally, and prevent the friction and irritation during exercise that can cause thrush.

Be sure not to stay in your workout clothes or swimming togs for extended periods of time, and wash your workout clothes regularly and thoroughly, to avoid the build-up of sweat. Showering immediately after working out and applying moisture-absorbing powder to perspiration-prone areas will also help ensure that you quickly dry off and cool down, preventing yeast microorganisms from growing.

Finally, take care of your immune system, drink loads of water and avoid exercising an excessive amount.

I stick to barely working out at all – it means I save money on the gym and workout clothes, and as discussed above, the NSA can’t even enjoy my photos – win/win!

Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.

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