As there is no physical contact during sexting and online sex (also called ‘cyber sex’, ‘virtual sex’ or ‘phone sex’) there is no risk of sexually transmitted infections to either partner.  However, there are still other risks from sexting and online sex and some things you should know if you’re thinking of trying it.

What is sexting and online sex?

Sexting and online sex means using phone calls, text messages, online video, internet chat rooms, email or instant messaging to exchange sex chat with another person or to send explicit pictures or video. It could be your regular partner or someone you’ve met online. It can involve talking or flirting or partners can masturbate. Some people only use text, others will take pictures or videos of themselves. 

What are the risks from sexting and online sex?

Although there’s no risk of sexually transmitted infections, there are other risks from sexting and online sex.

Someone could record your conversation or make your chat, pictures or video public. They might post your pictures publicly online or share them with other people such as their mates or to strangers for money. If someone distributes your images without your consent this is wrong. This is sometimes known as ‘revenge porn’.

Revenge porn doesn’t have to be from an ex-partner. If anyone passes on your images without your permission (even your current partner) this is a form of abuse. If someone does this to you it’s not your fault although unfortunately it could be difficult to regain control of your images. If your images do get into the wrong hands this could be highly embarrassing or stressful. It could also lead to cyber-bullying or someone trying to blackmail you.

Risks from sexting someone you don't know

If you’re sexting or having online sex with someone other than your regular partner, it could change your feelings towards them. You may feel guilty – the emotions involved in sexting and online sex are just as real as with any other kind of sex. If your partner finds out, they could feel hurt and betrayed.

Someone you meet online for ‘no ties’ sessions could track you down in the real world. It’s hard to judge character over the internet – they could turn out to be nasty or not be who you thought they were.

There’s nothing illegal about sexting or online sex between two consenting adults, however you need to be careful that the person at the other end is legally old enough to be engaged in sexual activity. If you have sexual images sent to you by, or of, someone under 18 you could be classed as having child pornography. If you send them on then you could be guilty of distributing child pornography. These are serious offences and you could end up in prison or on the sex offenders register. It is also an offence to send sexual images of yourself or sexual messages to someone under 16, or to send sexual images or messages to anyone who does not consent to receiving them. Find out more about sex and the law.

Another risk is regret, especially if you send something when you are drunk or have been taking drugs. You can’t take back something once it is sent, and it could be embarrassing next time you see that person face to face, especially if you accidentally send it to the wrong person!

Lastly, using commercial adult chat lines can be extremely expensive. You could get into trouble if a regular partner gets sight of your phone bill or you use a work telephone to call them. Some people can become addicted to these phone lines and run up huge bills.

Reducing the risks from sexting and online sex

The simplest way to reduce the risk from sexting is not to share anything you wouldn’t share with your boss, mum, or Facebook page. If you do engage in sexting there are some ways to reduce the risk . One way is to only engage in online sex with someone you would have actual sex with in real life  – if you don’t trust them enough with your real body you shouldn’t trust them with images of it.

Sexting your regular partner:

  • Only ever send pictures because you both want to – don’t send something because you feel pressured to do so.
  • Make sure the other person is expecting to receive something explicit and has consented to receiving it. It could be embarrassing for both of you if your partner opens an email at work in front of their boss! And you could run into trouble with the law.
  • Double-check who you are contacting - be sure that it will be received by who you think it will
  • Remember that, even if you trust someone, they could lose their phone, it could be hacked or things between you might change.

Sexting someone you don’t know:

To reduce the risk of someone you don't know tracking you down in real life:

  • Don’t post any shots of your face or any tattoos or other unique marks
  • Make sure your images are password protected – or better still deleted once they have been viewed.
  • Don’t use your real name
  • Use a different screen name from all your other login and usernames
  • Don’t give out your phone number, email address, or address
  • Avoid giving details of your job, friends, or leisure activities.

To avoid trouble with the law:

  • Ask how old the person is first. If you suspect they’re under 18, say ‘no thanks’ and log off
  • Don’t engage in sexting and online sex fantasies that would be illegal in real life
  • For pictures and video, stick within the UK laws on decency
  • If you receive something you think is inappropriate, delete it immediately.