sexting consent and the law

Sexting, Consent, and the Law

This guide to sexting consent and the law is an up to date rundown of the UK law on sexting. There’s also advice on how to do it safely.

As lots of people have phones with cameras it’s easy to take a sexy picture and to send it to someone else. However only a minority of young people actually do this (though loads more talk about it).

Lots of couples like to send each other sexy pics (and always have, even before digital cameras). It’s a way of being sexual and intimate with someone and is good for long distance relationships or where a couple can’t spend time together. Some couples do it to get their partner excited about seeing them again.

Sexting doesn’t have to involve pictures or videos: just words count. This kind of sexting is a great way to talk to each other about what kind of sex and touch you might like. It can help people to share fantasies. It’s also a way of having sex with each other if you can’t be together – by texting each other what you are doing and how you are touching yourself.

Read: How to Be Good At Sexting

Sexting is usually not a problem so long as there was clear consent and the relationship was equal and trusted.

Most people that really want to do this (and haven’t been hassled into it) don’t have any problems at all. This is especially true in relationships where there is trust and clear boundaries about what is and what isn’t ok both in real life and online.

However sending each other sexy images or videos can be cause problems. Particularly if you or your partner are under 18 ….

It’s illegal for under 18s

SEXTING it's illegal for under 18s


It can be quite a serious criminal offence to make a sexy image if someone in the image (or vid) is under 18. Someone taking an image with an under 18 year old in it is basically making child sex abuse images* even if taking a picture of themselves. Having that image on your phone, sending it to others and putting that image on a website are all criminal sexual offences too. (*used to be called child porn)

Read Consent and the Law

The Police are not interested in prosecuting people in a relationship if they both consented to send and receive these pics. But they are much more likely to prosecute people who share images without the consent of both people involved. So the person sending them to their mates can possibly get in big trouble.

If someone has your pic/vid and is using it to bully you or is harassing you or threatening to send it to other people please tell the Police, they will help you and you won’t be in trouble. (Report it via here)

If you want to remove a nude of you online you can use this tool from Childline / IWF

Other people may see

SEXTING other people might see it


Your picture or video may end up getting seen by someone other than the person you sent it to. You might find it hot that your partner is looking at your picture, but what if they show other people, or what if their phone gets nicked, or what if someone steals the images? It’s possible for people to put these images up online.

If you find your images online you can report them to the website. If they are breaking the law they will take them down but it may take some time to do this.

Remember it isn’t your fault, it’s the fault of the person who stole your picture or abused your trust.

Safer sexting

SEXTING safer sexts if you're gonna do it anyway

There are a lot of reasons why you might want to think again before sending a sexual image. I hope it isn’t too scary but the reality is that there are a lot of people who don’t do the right thing. If you’re still determined to send an image, think about the following.

  1. Ask before you send an image (asking is hot). If someone says no to sending or receiving an image don’t do it and don’t ask again. No means no, believe them. If they don’t respect your ‘no’ and keep hassling you, do they really respect you?
  2. Are you doing it because you really want to or just for the other person?
  3. Make sure you trust each other not to share it (even if you break up). Also make sure you actually know them in real life. If it’s an internet only relationship please be very careful about sharing anything.
  4. Understand the legal risks (see above). Remember it’s only images that are illegal. Sexy texts are legal.
  5. Don’t go further than you want to, just as with any kind of sex. Set your limits; eg you don’t have to get naked if you don’t want.
  6. To limit the risks, don’t take a picture of anything recognisable (eg your head).
  7. You could keep the image on your phone and show it to your partner in person.
  8. Snapchat (an app where you can take and send pictures which are automatically deleted) might work for you but it is sometimes still possible to copy the image either with a screenshot or by taking a picture with another phone/camera. More on this from Snapchat here.

How to report it

If Sexting has gone bad and you wish that you hadn’t made an image/vid you can get support here

Think U Know which is run by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Police. You can report things there too.

Childline if you’re upset and feel like you can’t talk to anyone you know in real life

And here’s some great tips for parents on how to keep your kids safer online.

If you’ve been sent a picture and you know that the person in the image doesn’t know you’re looking, think about what the right thing to do is. If you report it you won’t get in trouble

Also think about celebrity sex tapes (and read this fantastic piece about it from guest blogger Reni here). Most of the celebrities in these tapes didn’t want their videos to be on the internet and they had to take legal action to have them taken down. Is it cool to watch those even when you know they were taken without the consent of the person in it? Remember that we are all responsible, if we watch them then we are encouraging it.

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© Justin Hancock, 2022

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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health.

8 thoughts on “Sexting, Consent, and the Law

    1. Yeah great question. I think it’s to do with the different areas of law that the two offences come from. One is to do with indecency laws (nudes) and the other is to do with under age sex. I guess a good question would be ‘if you were someone who could make the law (a judge or a government), what would you do?’ I personally think the current situation, where the CPS make it clear that nudes under 18, so long as they are consensually taken and shared with each other (and not others), won’t be prosecuted is the sensible one. I just also think that we rely way too much on the legal system to regulate ethics and I think we need other better systems in place as well as the police and prosecutors. So you could perhaps also bring in the ideas of non-carceral feminism and abolition too?

  1. so nudes of those under 18 are illegal, but it’s legal for over 16s to send “sexy texts” which are not photos or videos? just want to clarify as all the information i’ve seen has focused on nude photos (which are of course a big concern, but surely text based content could pose problems too)

    1. Good question, but it’s only images (which also includes video and live streaming) which is against the law. There are different laws concerning under age sexual activity the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (16) and illegal images of children (18) which you can see here https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/indecent-and-prohibited-images-children. Sexual chat (with no images) isn’t illegal if you’re 16 or 17. It might be if the victim is under 16, because that will come under the Sexual Offences Act.

      The law is a right mess and it isn’t very nuanced. The most important thing to take away is that offences in this age group that are consensual in nature and not abusive aren’t going to be prosecuted – the Crown Prosecution Service are very clear about that.

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