Q: “My girlfriend and I broke up a month ago. We split on tense but amicable terms. I’d say we’re still friends, but we don’t talk a lot. So anyway … I found myself perusing old pictures in my phone. You know, in the special hidden album. It has nudes that she had sent me early on and even a couple videos we made while we were together. We didn’t work out as a couple, but I still find her attractive and we had very good times in bed. Is it wrong for me to keep these things? I would obviously never post them anywhere.”
Holy cats, thank you for adding that last sentence because before we get into the intricacies of this nuanced topic, let’s make the baseline super fucking clear.
In case anyone doesn’t already know: It’s wildly uncool and unethical to share nudes or homemade porn without permission, whether you’re still together or not. In many states, it’s considered revenge porn and it’s illegal. Pennsylvania made it a second-degree misdemeanor in 2014 and it applies to current as well as former partners.
But what about keeping it for your … uhhhh personal use? I asked folks on the internet and got back a lot of different opinions
“It’s completely reasonable to ask for content to be deleted, and not complying makes you a piece of shit. However, I don’t think it’s inherently unethical to keep in the absence of a request to delete.” – Joe
“I think the person from whom it originated should be the one who determines what is done with it in the postmortem. If I sent you naked pictures and I want you to delete them, I expect you to do so. Same with hot raunchy fantasies via text.” – Ashley
“I delete everything after a break up. Once we are no longer in a relationship, I don’t believe I have the right to those images/video any longer.” – James
“Content like that may hold sentimental value and it should be up to the owner to hold on to it for personal use and may delete/keep at their discretion as long as it is not disseminated out of ‘revenge porn’ purposes.” – Tim
“I say it’s unethical to continue to keep it” – Katie
“Most of the time I just default to deleting everything to prevent making myself sad later. I have exes that I no longer trust after the breakup, and I want them to delete everything. I have other exes where we are still cool and I trust they won’t share my nudes so I don’t really care if they keep them for personal use.” – Alabaster
“Is part of the appeal that it’s a little naughty to still have this content? If so, look deeper into that and see if you really want to indulge that or if you can get that feeling from watching some paid performers pretend to be step-siblings on a porn site instead.”
“I think it may be unseemly to keep those things, but not unethical. IMO, gifts are gifts, and we relinquish our claim once given away.” – Dave
“Only keep them for as long as you’d be comfortable asking someone that it’s OK that you still have them.” – Cadey
“Personally, I wouldn’t be offended if an ex kept nudes or our porn on their phone, unless I specifically asked them to delete it. Even then, there’s no way to really know. In the past, I’ve kept them for a short time after our breakup, but delete them as I decide to go back thru my photos … it never feels healthy or beneficial to my post-breakup recovery to keep those attachments.” – Lexie
And a reply that we can probably all agree on:
“Ideally, this is part of the discussion in a comprehensive and fear-facing discussion early in the relationship.” – Baron
Because that’s really the thing: What was the expectation when these images were sent or these videos were made? I’m guessing you didn’t have a serious chat about that at the time. That it would be awkward to ask about it now is a good indication that you know, on some level, it’s probably not the best idea to keep them. Let’s consider the appeal of keeping them, though.
Some people keep nudes and sexts because it’s simply quality spank bank material. Fair enough. But consider: Are these souvenirs you’ll keep forever or will it be an act of moving on when you are able to discard them? What are you going to do when you start your next relationship? At what point will it become something that a new partner could stumble upon and find upsetting?
“What was the expectation when these images were sent or these videos were made? I’m guessing you didn’t have a serious chat about that at the time. That it would be awkward to ask about it now is a good indication that you know, on some level, it’s probably not the best idea to keep them.”
Is part of the appeal that it’s a little naughty to still have this content? If so, look deeper into that and see if you really want to indulge that or if you can get that feeling from watching some paid performers pretend to be step-siblings on a porn site instead.
Or maybe you’re keeping it because it’s comforting and familiar and dating is scary and horrible. That makes a lot of sense, but it could hinder your ability to move on if you rely on it.
Philosophically, there are a lot of perfectly reasonable, yet differing takes to have. Maybe spend some time percolating on what your feelings are, figure out what your own motivations would be to keep versus discard and spend some time making space for new things in your life.
Have a question for Timaree? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.