Natalie, a 38-year-old in New England, experienced a waking nightmare last year. She took a risqué photo of herself wearing only lingerie to send to a guy she was seeing at the time, but instead of sending it to her lover, she accidentally posted it in a group chat for the entire Northeast territory of the giant telecommunications company where she worked. “I felt insane,” she says. “I think I was on the brink of a manic episode because I don’t really recall how it happened. The only thing I could conclude is that the app was right next to my Signal app, and they’re both blue. [But] I just don’t know.”
Natalie’s ordeal didn’t end with the sheer humiliation of having sent a near-nude to “probably about 85” of her coworkers, either. She was also hauled in front of HR and asked to explain herself. “I tend to make jokes when I get nervous,” Natalie explains. “So my first response was, ‘Oh, were there any likes [on the picture]?’ HR took that as a sign that I sent it on purpose and fired me.” Unsurprisingly, Natalie describes the whole thing as “awful” and “mortifying.” “Looking back, I should’ve done more at least to get unemployment,” she continues. “But it was just so embarrassing at the time.”
The prospect of sending a nude to the wrong person is a terrifying one, and now that we’re all shut up in our homes with little else to do but exchange horny pictures, the chances of a misstep are even higher. And while accidentally sending a nude to a friend is embarrassing enough, there’s a nuclear tier of people to whom sending this kind of photo is pretty much life-ruining, like a boss, a parent, a despised ex or a group chat containing nearly 100 of your coworkers.
How do people in this position ever recover?
One approach is to simply bury your head in the sand and hope that mutual embarrassment prevents the subject from ever being raised. This worked out surprisingly well for Ashley, a 27-year-old in L.A. who accidentally sent a nude to her boss when she was in her late teens. “I was so mortified that I deleted all the evidence and just pretended it never happened,” she says. “Thankfully, it was a summer hostessing job and I sent the picture during winter, so I didn’t have to face him anytime soon. When I went back to work the next summer, he’d actually moved restaurants.”
Of course, fate doesn’t smile on everyone like it did on Ashley, so others take matters into their own hands. When Abby, a 36-year-old in New York City, accidentally sent a nude to her mother six years ago, she pursued damage control at all costs. “I’m blessed in that I knew her Google password and remotely wiped her phone of all its data,” she explains. “She called me upset about her phone being fucked up so I helped her trade it in for a newer model and I paid the difference.” Abby still feels guilty, describing herself as “a terrible daughter,” but the tactic worked, and to this day her mom is none the wiser.
This is really an area where prevention is better than cure, though, and some common mistakes do crop up that we can all learn from. Abby’s fatal error was saving her lover in his phone under his last name, because she had a handful of people who shared his very common first name in her phone already. The problem was, his surname was Mombrun, and her mother, naturally enough, was saved as “Mom” — you can see where this is going. This was the same mistake Ashley made: Her boyfriend and her boss had the same name, and weren’t differentiated in any way in her contacts list. And so, it’s worth making contacts’ names abundantly clear, even if you need to save people in your phone as, say, “Jack (boss)” and “Jack [heart-eye emoji].”
Another common mistake is inattentively sending a nude to the most recent contact, assuming it’s your lover as opposed to your boss or dad. And if you’re communicating across a range of platforms with similar-looking app icons, the risk is further heightened. For this pitfall, there’s really no other solution than to be as focused and deliberate as possible when sending nudes. As Abby advises, “Always triple check the receiver if you’re going to send them” (though these days she’s gone a step further: she doesn’t send nudes at all, saying she’s been “scared straight”). For her part, Ashley adds that she now avoids “sending nudes when [she’s] half asleep.”
But for those who wish to remain in the nude-sharing game, there’s no way to totally eliminate the risk of a catastrophic mix-up of recipients, and sometimes you’ll just need to ride out the consequences of accidentally sending a nude to the wrong person. For someone as unlucky as Natalie, that’s no small ask, but in fairness, most people aren’t going to be fired on the spot because of it either.
To that end, when Elizabeth, a 32-year-old in London, accidentally sent a nude to a despised ex she hadn’t spoken to in four months who had the same name as her current partner, she felt “really sick and hot and anxious.” “It was a real, ‘Oh shit, my life is over!’ moment,” Elizabeth explains, “because we’d had a really long, drawn-out breakup and I was pissed off at myself for accidentally opening up contact with him.”
Thankfully, Elizabeth’s loved ones helped her regain perspective. “I freaked out and messaged pretty much all of my friends who reassured me it wasn’t actually that big of a deal in the scheme of things,” she says. “So I just swallowed the embarrassment and moved on.”
People in this unenviable situation can also take some comfort in the growing social acceptance of nude-sharing. “We have sort of accepted by this point that as humans we like to photograph and share our naked bodies with people,” Ashley says, adding that “embarrassment was the only real repercussion” in her case. “My final advice is to only send nudes that you wouldn’t mind getting leaked because you look so damn good.”