So what is sexting or sending nudes?

You may have heard lots about sending nudes or rudes, or sexting. We are going to use the phrase ‘sexting’ for the rest of this page but it includes all of the above. You may have heard people talking about it at school or college or on social media so what does it actually mean.

Sexting can include sending;

  • naked pictures or 'nudes'
  • 'underwear shots'
  • sexual or 'dirty pics'
  • rude text messages or video

You could be sending these to a boyfriend or girlfriend, or someone else.

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What’s the big deal?

First of all you also need to be aware that when you’re under 18 it’s against the law for anyone to take or have a sexual photo of you – even if it’s a selfie, we will cover this more later.

Once you send a sexting image you lose complete control over what happens to it. When you send any images or texts it doesn’t just jump straight from your phone to the other phone you are sending it to. It can find its way to places you might not want it to or fall into hands that you didn’t mean it to.

You may also feel that everyone is taking and sending nudes to each other and you are the only one who is not, but that is simply not true. Even if people are talking about it and are saying they’ve done it that’s not always the case. Never feel pressurised to do anything you don’t want to, including sexting someone.

Did you know? If you take and send 10 naked pictures of yourself almost 9 of them are going to end up somewhere else on the internet.

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The law

In the 1970’s a law was created to stop adults from having pictures of children (anyone under 18) who are naked or who were being abused, these images are called child abuse images. 

Lots has changed since the 1970’s including technology but this is still a law. That means anyone, including you, who takes, sends, shares or possess any image of someone under the age of 18 who is naked, semi-naked or the image is sexual in nature is breaking the law.

For example, if you are 16 and take an image of yourself in your underwear and send it to your boyfriend or girlfriend you are breaking the law. Your boyfriend or girlfriend would breaking the law too as they now have a photo of someone under the age of 18 in their underwear.  If your boyfriend or girlfriend then sends the photo to their friends they have also broken the law as they now have a copy of the image too. You can see how this can easily get out of hand.

Whilst it is illegal the police will always help you and safeguard you in the first instance if you are involved in any types of sexting. If you send an image and it all goes wrong always speak to an adult you trust straight away.

It’s also helpful for you to know that your school and college have powers to deal with incidents of sexting. Sometimes they will have to report it to the police and/or other agencies if they are concerned but they are able to help you.

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What will the police do about reported incidents of sexting?

Sometimes sexting can be reported to the police for different reasons. The police will always help you and stop any harm coming to you in the first instance. As a police force we have to record any incidents of sexting that is reported to us in line with National Crime Recording Standards.

What happens after this point depends on the situation itself.

If there are no ‘aggravating’ factors. This means the sexting you have been involved in does not have any of the following;

  • There is not a big age difference between the people sending and receiving the images
  • You haven’t been pressurised or blackmailed into sending images
  • You haven’t been involved in incidents of sexting or other relevant offences before
  • No one involved is under the age of 13
  • No one involved is over the age of 18
  • There isn’t an intent to harm you and there is no violence involved
  • No one is making any money or profit from the images
  • There isn’t any signs of anyone being groomed

If this is the case the police have the power to use something called ‘Outcome 21’. Outcome 21 means the police has recorded this incident on a police system but will not be taking any further action in this case and will provide you with information and support.

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What does outcome 21 mean?

  • This does not mean that you have a criminal record.
  • It does mean that your information is on a policing system.
  • If you do not have any other relevant offences/ incidents against you on a policing system, it is highly unlikely that this would be disclosed on Disclosure and Barring Service check when you are applying for a job or university for example.
  • This recorded incident (on its own) will not stop you travelling to different countries.

If there are ‘aggravating’ factors. This means the sexting you have been involved in has one or more of the following;

  • There is a big age difference between the people sending and receiving the images
  • You have been blackmailed or pressurised into sending the image
  • You have been involved in incidents of sexting or other relevant offences before
  • Someone involved is under the age of 13
  • Someone involved is over the age of 18
  • There is a intent to cause harm or violence is involved
  • Someone is making money or profit from the image
  • There are signs of someone being groomed

If this happens the police will investigate this as they would any other crime. The outcome of this will depend on this investigation.

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What happens if I’ve sent a nude?

As we said above if you have sent a ‘sext’ and it’s all gone wrong speak to a trusted adult straight away, this could be a parent or carer, a teacher, ChildLine or another adult you can trust. We know this can be embarrassing but it’s important you get help and support straight away.

Speak to the person you have sent the ‘sext’ to and have an honest conversation. Ask them to delete the image and if it’s gone onto any social media platforms to take these down straight away.

If you’re under 18 and an indecent or nude pic of you is posted online, that's illegal. But you can get help. You can contact the website or social media site directly or make a report about what’s happened to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), who will speak to the website to try and remove it.

There is also lots of helpful advice and tips in this booklet ‘So you got naked online’ which you should read.

If you aren’t sure what you should do you can always call ChildLine who can support you and talk to you about what’s happened.

Did you know? 89.9% of self-generated images (selfies) have been collected and put onto other sites without the sender knowing.

More information and support


Childline offer a free, 24 hour, confidential helpline for all young people to talk about anything that is worrying you, including sexting and how to makes reports on different social media sites. You can contact ChildLine in a number of ways including by phone, email, online chat or their website which has lots of information:

Phone: 0800 11 11

So you got naked online!

The South West Grid for Learning has produced this booklet ‘So you got naked online!’ to provide advice and support for you on issues resulting from sexting incidents.


Thinkuknow provides information and advice on lots of topics including sexting.



The ZIPIT App contains a lot of memes and images to send back to people that might have asked for sexual images. This can take the pressure off to send sexualised images. Download the app now. It’s free to download.


Internet Watch Foundation

The Internet Watch Foundation can get sexual or naked images of children and young people removed from the internet.


Easy-read guide to sexting

Content uploaded: 25/07/2017 16:20 | Modified: 11/08/2020 13:59