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Sexting: the law and more

Sexting: the law and moreSharing nude photos might be more harmful than people realise. Find out what can happen, how to resist pressure, and where to get support.

What's the law?

Creating, owning or sharing sexual photos or videos of somebody under 18 is always against the law – it doesn't matter who the photo is of or who took it. This applies even if:

  • You are under 18 yourself
  • The photo or video is of you
  • You are sent a photo or video you didn't ask for

It's also illegal to share a private sexual photo or video of someone without their permission, even if they are over 18.

The law about photos of under 18s is very strict, so if someone tries to convince you that it's OK in a certain situation, they are almost certainly wrong.

The exact penalty can vary depending on exactly what happened, but the consequences can last a long time. For example, having a criminal record or being put on the Sex Offenders Register can cause big problems when looking for a job.

It's important to be aware of the law, but don't let the fear of getting into trouble stop you from finding help if you need it. If you are worried, you can contact ChildLine confidentially: they won't share what you tell them with anyone else, and as well as giving you advice they can help with things like getting photos posted online taken down.

Other consequences

Losing control

Even if someone is pressuring you to send photos, you are still in control: you have a choice about whether to do it or not. Once you send a photo or message to someone else, that changes: if they decide to share it or even post it online, there's nothing you can do to stop them.

You might trust the person you are messaging, but this doesn't guarantee that you'll be safe. Even if they are as trustworthy as you think they are, you might not be able to trust everyone who gets hold of their phone.

Remember, you can't rely on online privacy controls or 'self-destructing' apps like Snapchat: there are always ways for people to get around them if they want to.

Another risk is that people you send photos to might use them to try to make you do things you don't want to do by threatening to share them. If this happens to you, talk to an adult you trust or contact ChildLine. This is a form of blackmail: it's illegal, and you can get help to deal with it.

Your wellbeing

Sexting leaves you vulnerable to being treated in a way that harms your mental and emotional health. Because sexting involves sharing something very private and personal, you might feel like this is your fault even though you have been mistreated by someone else. For example:

  • If a person starts treating you differently or stops replying to messages after you send them a picture, you might feel like you have been tricked or that you weren't good enough.
  • If you fall out or break up with someone you shared photos with, you might feel upset that they still have them or worried about whether they will share them.

If this happens, you can get support. Find out more about looking after your mental and emotional health, and where you can go for help.

How to say no

If you are being put under pressure to share photos, or to let someone else take them, it can be difficult to say no. These strategies can help:

  • Make sure you know how to block someone from sending you messages or calling you. If someone won't take no for an answer, remember that they don't have the right to keep talking to you.
  • Get support from someone else. If someone is trying to manipulate you into sending photos, they might make you feel like you are being boring or unreasonable. Talking to a friend about it can help to reassure you that you are in the right.
  • Remember that you don't have to explain yourself. What you do with your body is your choice - and anyone who doesn't respect your right to say no definitely doesn't respect you enough to be trusted with your photos.
  • Remember that someone sending you a photo doesn't mean you have to send one back - especially if you didn't ask for it in the first place. You can just delete their photo and tell them you're not interested.

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