Why I Send Nudes
For some women, the simple act of taking a photo and jettisoning it out into the world has taken on much deeper meaning
Sometimes I wonder how it ended up like this, how I became the person that writes about nudes, who posed nude for a national magazine and who occasionally even tweets out naked pictures of herself. Then I realize, as I write this, that from where I’m sitting in my parents’ home where I’m isolating, that I can see three pieces of art with nude women. There’s one more just out of my eyeline behind me above the fireplace — two if you count the Matisse coffee-table book with the nude on the cover. My relationship with nudity has never been a fraught one; I grew up in a house with little modesty and even less judgment. My mom bought me my first box of condoms and came to my first OBGYN appointment, and my sister and I were raised in a house full of artwork celebrating the female form in all shapes and sizes.
And so, when I think about it like that, it’s really no great surprise that I’ve ended up on this beat. That being said, my relationship with my own nudes — and by extension my own body (or vice versa, I suppose), like most people’s — was not linear. I suppose it’s useful at this juncture to say we need not and will not be strictly definitional with the word “nude.” A nude can be a partially clothed photo intended to arouse. It can be a photo in lingerie. Or it can be a completely nude photo. It can also be anything in between. It can be a photo or a video or whatever visual medium you find erotic and empowering.
The first time I sent a nude I was in college, casually sexting the guy who sat behind me in my broadcast journalism class. He was 6’4, had a massive dick and would go on to stalk me for some time after our highly dramatized separation, which is not entirely relevant, but feels odd to omit. We sent each other photos over Snapchat, which usually consisted of dick pics on his end and partially clothed photos on mine. He would come and I would lie and say that I had also, but I was as inexperienced as I was horny, so it was a rush nonetheless. My next experience with nudes was with an older guy I met through work, and when I say met through work, I mean I was a college intern and he was on staff and in retrospect, yes, I do see the exploitive nature of that. Roughly 10 years his junior, I was rapt by the idea that this older professional man wanted me. It started with some light sexting and a suggestion on his part to show me what I was describing instead. What ensued was a painfully one-sided dalliance where I provided him reams of masturbatory material and I got back one blurry shirtless pic that he told me to delete (no love lost there).
A handful or so men later, I started law school and was diagnosed with endometriosis — a chronic reproductive health condition — in the same year. Which is frankly not a combination I would recommend. My sex life crumbled, along with my sanity and any semblance of self-love I had developed at that point. I was a chubby kid, and like many chubby kids who are told by their doctors to lose weight, I developed disordered eating habits in college which kept me hovering around a size 2. When I got sick, though, my body changed, and with it my ability to see myself as desirable. Oddly enough, this is when my relationship with nudes became formative. I started sexting men near and far as a way to reclaim my sexuality. Hearing that I was hot and that I turned someone on filled a space in my consciousness that was being drained by my physical health, and whether these external affirmations were a healthy vessel for that validation is really beside the point, because it felt good and that was at all that mattered. It was also the first time I was in control of why I was sending nudes. Sure, they existed to get someone else off, but more and more I started enjoying the process of taking them — the ritual of picking out lingerie and finding the right angles and of admiring them after, of seeing my own body in a way that was detached from how it felt: good.
Many of my friends report similarly affirming experiences with nudes. My friend Elizabeth*, 29, also suffers from chronic pelvic pain and says taking nudes, for her, is self-care. “Some people meditate when they are feeling anxious, some find TV to be relaxing, but for me? I take nudes.” My friend Katie*, 24, says nudes helped her reclaim her sexuality after growing up in a religious environment. “I was raised in the evangelical church with abstinence-only teachings, purity rings and shame in general around being sexual. (I even signed a contract saying I wouldn’t have sex before marriage!) So, taking nudes helps me to say ‘fuck off’ to that part of my brain when it’s really hard to get out of my head and embrace pleasure for the sake of my own pleasure.”
The question of who my nudes are for has also evolved. Some days I’ll send them to someone and others I’ll post them to Instagram or twitter. Sometimes these will be the same, sometimes they’ll be different. I have things I send to people privately that I would never share publicly — videos and photos of parts of my body that I like to keep in a private erotic context. But whoever they’re being shared with, and wherever they are shared, they’re always first and foremost for me.
My friend Maria*, who is 34 and married with children, says that while she used to take nudes more frequently before living with her partner, these days taking nudes has been an enriching part of her postpartum experiences. “It’s been a refreshing and private way of honoring my body through the radical shape-shifting changes of pregnancy, breastfeeding, and the postpartum months, and reclaiming it from the utility of growing and nurturing babies,” she says.
Elizabeth* says she takes nudes both personally and specifically for her partner, as well as for social media. After dating someone for years who shamed her for showing off her body in public, she says the only difference between the nudes she shares publicly and those she shares with her partner are the latter are a message of love just for him. “I think the idea that your body is only meant for your partner(s) can be really damaging.” For me personally, there’s power and pleasure in sharing nudes on social media as well; sometimes it’s for someone I’m sexting with — I’ll hidden tag them in a racy Instagram story, or post a photo taken just for them as a kind of remote exhibitionism. Usually, though, it’s to show off a body I had a very hard time learning to love; it’s to soak in the attention (yes, I’m a Leo) and enjoy the affirmation that my body is good and desirable. And no, of course our sense of self shouldn’t come from outside opinions, but when the good things we think about ourselves are reinforced by people we care about, what’s the harm in that?
And there are moments when I still panic that I’m making mistakes or worry that the image I’m projecting to the world is not a worthy or respectable one; that it’s somehow incongruent with my professional life. But to put it plainly, that’s just bullshit. There’s no actual dissonance between my nudes-loving persona and say, my JD from a top law school; any such notion suggesting otherwise was invented by a society that seeks to weaponize and shame women’s sexuality as a means of control and degradation.
But getting sick taught me the value in having some semblance of control over my body and how fleeting and precarious that control can be. It radicalized my sense agency. It’s been four years since my diagnosis and much has changed about my body and my sex life and how I engage both, but what remains is that my relationship with nudes and nudity is still foundational in my sense of self. These days there are more than 2,000 photos in my hidden folder. I took nudes today and I’ll probably take them tomorrow. I’ll take then when I feel sick to help me feel better, and I’ll take them when I feel great to celebrate those moments. I’ll take them for another person, and I’ll post them on Instagram. I’ll take them because my body is mine and that means I can.
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