TIME relationships

Non-Consensual Sexting: The Hot New Way to Make Someone Really Uncomfortable

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Cultura/Matelly—Getty Images

The eggplant emoji is even more important than you thought it was

You’ve probably received it while buried in a book on a train or mindlessly scrolling through Twitter during a Real Housewives marathon: the unsolicited penis photo (or dickpic) from a stranger. Sent by an anonymous person via Snapchat or Twitter or even a blocked number, the moment you open that disturbing image never becomes less jarring and upsetting, no matter how many you receive. But what about the lewd photo sent by someone you know, without context or warning? Even if you’ve sexted with this person before, you didn’t want to see his junk just then — but there it is, demanding attention.

Welcome to the non-consensual sext.

The non-consensual sext is the equivalent of a guy you’ve had sex with randomly grabbing your boob at a party because he thinks since you gave yourself to him once or twice or five times that you belong to him…whenever he wants. In real life, that might be classified as sexual assault. But what about when it happens online?

Many men probably find it flattering to dash off a photo of their junk as a sort of sentimental “look what thinking of you did to me” moment, without understanding how that photo might be received. They’re not doing it to make you uncomfortable–they’re doing it because they expect you to be down to receive inappropriate pictures as frequently as they are, which is probably “at any time, day or night.”

But at the very least, sending someone a graphic photo or message without the courtesy of a warning is disrespectful. At most–when the photos come from complete strangers–it’s a form of digital sexual harassment. Why? Because non-consensual sexting reveals a fundamental disrespect for women as people with thoughts and feelings and schedules that do not always line up with your arousal timetable. It turns women into blow-up dolls cradling iPhones. It assumes that women exist solely to please you how and when you want. A woman can’t consent if the photo has already been sent.

Engaging in some sort of introductory conversation—even if the motive behind it is entirely evident—isn’t just preferable, it’s the respectful thing to do. Otherwise, it’s sext without foreplay. Men should think of it as a trigger warning before they whip anything out. And though there are far fewer women letting unsolicited pics of their ladyparts fly, women should also be considerate when hovering over the “send” button. After all, as with most things related to sex, it all comes down to communication–maybe both of you are into the surprise sext, but talking about it first is key.

Of course content matters just as much as context. Sending someone a flirty text or a suggestive picture isn’t the same as jumping right into the whole explicit dirty talk thing. As one friend put it, “There’s a difference between sending someone a thing you feel they might enjoy looking at at their leisure, and the text equivalent of just poking them with your [erection].”

A girl can’t blame a dude for thinking you want to sext with him again, especially if you’ve engaged in the act before. Plus, chances are your partner doesn’t even realize he’s engaging in non-consensual sexting—after all, our society puts pressure on men to always be the ones to make the move, and transposing that onto digital platforms can be a recipe for disaster. But it’s more than fair to ask your sexting partner to understand that all sexual relationships, no matter the platform, require consent—even if it means he has to preface a picture of his junk with the eggplant emoji. You know, just to be safe.

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