What’s a Nudes Protocol and Why You Should Have One

I love rules. I love rules so much I convinced my editor to let me write all about them. Yeah, I’m neurodivergent — and probably on the autistic color wheel. One day, I’ll pay a psychologist to tell me what I’m sure I already know. But that’s not the point of this article. The point of the article is that I’ve got 800 words to convey my love for rules to you, and oh goodness I need to get into it.

Normalized digital communication and the challenges of consent

Forming relationships online is now normalized. The upside is that it’s easier than ever to find lovely people and sext them. The downside is that a lot of our procedures of consent haven’t caught up. As difficult as #MeToo was, I’m glad it kicked the proverbial door open for necessary conversations about unambiguous and happy consent.

I just don’t think that conversation has fully reached the digital realm. Online communications leave an indelible paper trail. New technologies mean new toys for bad actors. Many of us don’t take our online presence as seriously because it’s ‘just online’. It’s all ‘just online’ until it bites us in the ass. That’s what I learned when I left online sex work.

So here’s how I enhance sexual consent when sexting.

Making rules for the benefit of all

During the pandemic, my sex life migrated online. I couldn’t be my usual poly self during the global health crisis. I sexted a lot. Sent a lot of nudes too. And in doing so, I had to think about where the data was going. I had reasonable concerns about who my partners might show my ass too, or whether I was handling their ass respectfully. I kept my anxiety from kneeing me in the stomach and managed to ask for my partners’ opinions.

I asked stuff like, “How would you like me to handle our nudes and sexts if this ends?” and “Can you only show my pics to your partner at the furthest, and don’t send them to anyone else. Showing is fine. Sending is not.

The response was unanimously positive, and that’s how a protocol began developing.

Dr. Martha Tara Lee, a relationship counselor and sexologist says: “Having a nudes protocol is crucial in today’s digital age to ensure that both parties involved are clear on their boundaries and expectations. It helps establish trust, respect, and consent in digital interactions, just like we would in face-to-face encounters.”

The last bit about face-to-face encounters gets me. I’m very concerned about my partners’ enjoyment and well-being once they’re in tongue distance. So why shouldn’t it apply to sexts too?

A nudes protocol (or whatever you wanna call it) is a personalized framework of rules about how your digital sexual data should be handled. Just like negotiated consent in person, it also accounts for your partners’ opinions. I can’t tell you exactly what it looks like, because yours should look different. But when you start setting one up, here are some guiding questions that will shape it.

  1. How do I feel about these messages being shared — whether shown to others or forwarded?
  2. How do I feel about my media (pics, vids) being stored, and should they be stored in a specific way?
  3. What should happen to my media if this relationship ends?
  4. How should I convey these rules to my partners and what does it say about them if they disagree?

Those are the questions I asked myself when I began reflecting on my online consent.

Of course, this isn’t just about me. Thinking about, and then acting on, sexual boundaries is good for any relationship. Dr. Lee points out that, “by openly discussing and setting boundaries for digital sexual communications, individuals can build stronger and more respectful relationships. It fosters honest communication, mutual understanding, and a sense of safety and consent in sharing intimate content.”

Well-communicated consent exists for everyone’s benefit. Since I started doing this, my anxieties have lifted because I’ve communicated my boundaries directly and honestly. My partners have expressed their ease, too. Most of them didn’t have a specific protocol, but they’ve been unconsciously asking those same questions. Seeing my rules gave them pause. And then they told me theirs.

Think first, then sext

Rules imposed on us are restrictive. Rules we make for our benefit are an expression of autonomy. Setting up my nudes protocol didn’t just make me a better communicator — it gave me the means to extend my beloved in-person consent to my preferred domain of communication: texting.

I’ll never forget the first time a partner said it was good to know I would delete our message history if she ever asked. Nor will I forget the first time I sent my nudes to a photographer who told me that anything he receives from Tinder randos is stored with the same diligence as his work data.

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Summer Tao

Summer Tao is a South Africa based writer. She has a fondness for queer relationships, sexuality and news. Her love for plush cats, and video games is only exceeded by the joy of being her bright, transgender self

Summer has written 41 articles for us.

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