Tell Me About It

I’m afraid an intimate photo may be used to blackmail me or be sold to a porn site

Tell Me About It: ‘I lost my virginity to a really nice guy who then took his phone out’

PROBLEM: I am a 22-year-old male and I am, what my parents would call, “timid”. I find it difficult to make friends and spend a lot of time worrying about whether people will like me or not.

I attended a counsellor in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services when I was a teenager and developed some coping skills. It was at that time that I first spoke about my sexuality and when I came out to my family that I was gay, it felt like no big deal as my parents and siblings all said that they knew already and were waiting for me to tell them.

That was the easy bit, developing a relationship has not been easy. I don’t feel comfortable going online and, when I meet guys, they either make fun of me or I think that they just want to use me. Up until six months ago I had never even had a kiss, but recently I met this really nice guy when I was out walking my dog. He is foreign and the same age as me and we sat and chatted for a long time.

We met in the same place several times and then went for coffee and later for drinks. We kissed and, a few days later, I lost my virginity to him. I wouldn’t exactly call it special as I know that this was never to be a forever thing, but it was nice and I am happy that we did it.

He then told me that he was moving for work to a city in the UK and asked me to visit him for a weekend which I did, and we had a great time. When we were having sex, he stood over me whilst I was naked on the floor and took photos of me with his phone. I was a bit shocked but didn’t want to say anything in case I caused an argument as I didn’t want to ruin the mood and I also felt vulnerable as I was in a different country and I had very little money.

He told me I was beautiful and that I should show myself to the world. No one ever commented on my looks before, so I was flattered but said no. When I returned home, there was little contact. I asked him to send me the photo and then for him to delete the copy. He said he would but never did. I asked him again and he told me he had deleted it and to leave him alone.

I noticed on Instagram that he is now with someone else. I know my family are supportive but still they would be horrified if they knew I allowed myself to have such an explicit photo taken of myself. I know that being of good character is central to the profession I am following and I am aware that if any such photos ever emerge of me it will have serious consequences for my career.

I am now very worried that he might blackmail me or sell the photo to a porn site. I am finding it very hard to cope with something that I cannot control.

ADVICE: You have two things going on here: one is a lack of consent (consent needs to be freely given and not manipulated) for a sexually explicit photo being taken and the second is that your thoughts are obsessing about something that might not and has not happened.

The difficulty with this obsessive thought is that you have no control over what your ex-lover might do but you can look to your experience of him and it does seem that he is not a bad or vindictive person, other than his dismissive attitude to your fear regarding the photo.

Shame can be toxic to us in that we feel the same level of emotional repugnance every time we even think of the event

It seems as if you expect the worst to happen and while this approach can sometimes be protective, it can also make you live in constant alert and fear and this can have serious consequences for you. Of course, you may want to take further action with your ex, such as officially requesting the return of the photo or the deletion of the image on his phone but, even if you do this, you are still going to have the habit of fearful thinking to deal with.

There are now laws against revenge porn, but your situation does not fit into this category and indeed if you discover your image has been used without your consent, you can address this through the criminal justice system.

In the meantime, there is the shame you feel in advance of being found out to have allowed yourself photographed in an intimate pose. Shame can be toxic to us in that we feel the same level of emotional repugnance every time we even think of the event. It might be a very good idea for you to get some help to expunge this shame and to address your negative way of thinking as it seems these things are growing rather than lessening at this point.

The promotion of consent is something we all want to encourage in our society

It was a big event for you to have your first romantic relationship and to have this follow up probably has had a very negative effect on your confidence, but you now have a sense of what a relationship can offer you, so do not shut this door as it may lead to your happiness.

Sexual consent is a hot topic at the moment and the aim is to generate a culture where all aspects of sexual behaviour are subject to consent and this includes intimate photos and sexting. You have learned, the hard way, that it takes courage and confidence to ensure consent, but doing so creates a safe environment for all those involved. The barriers to active consent include fear of awkwardness or fear of ruining the moment but we need to overcome these if we are to have freedom of expression in our relationships.

The promotion of consent is something we all want to encourage in our society, and you can now be part of this by being honest in your intimate relationships and by being brave in speaking up for your concerns.