As a new book is released exploring the modern, smartphone-facilitated phenomenon of ‘sending nudes’, Holly Williams reflects on the lineage of naked self-representation it continues.
“Love, lust, pleasure, desire, beauty, anatomical study, self-expression, egotism… The impulses behind sending nudes are many.
Creating nudes and sharing them seems to be part of human nature.” So begins Karla Linn Merrifield, in the first contribution to a new anthology entitled Sending Nudes. A collection of poems, stories and memoir on the subject takes a long hard look at the contemporary – and seemingly timeless – a habit of sharing images of the naked human form.
The idea came to editor Julianne Ingles after a short story entitled Send Nudes was submitted for a previous anthology she was working on. “I thought [the topic] could be explored, that other people would have stories and poems,” says Ingles.
“Sending nudes” is more of a live topic than ever, chiefly because the ease of taking, replicating, and sharing naked images has led to anxieties about everything from revenge porn to celebrity sex tapes, hacked private images to sexting teenagers. But since the advent of smartphones, sending nudes has also become normalized incredibly quickly: any woman who’s been on a dating app in the last decade will likely have been asked to share nude pictures with eyebrow-lifting speed.
But Ingles reminds me that sending nudes isn’t new: “When I was in my early twenties, I sent nudes to someone – this was before the internet, so it was Polaroids”. It’s just that it used to be a private, little-spoken-of activity rather than part and parcel of digital dating and contemporary life.
Its increasing prevalence as a phenomenon is neither a simple “good” nor “bad” thing, Ingles – and the writers of Sending Nudes – suggest. While the potential for coercion, abuse and shaming are high, sexting can be a fun, consensual way to develop intimacy. It’s also become almost a practical necessity for many during a pandemic – a way of keeping the sexual fire alive, over enforced distance.