'Sexting is safe'

Would you take naked pictures of yourself on your smartphone, then send them to your partner?

Five young women tell The New Paper on Sunday why they do this despite the dangers.

Loosen up. Don't be so conservative, auntie.

That is what the women told me last week.

This is after they showed TNPS the nude selfies that they had sent their boyfriends.

Many of the photos - collectively, there are more than 200 of them - are artistically shot. Most were of themselves topless on their beds or facing a mirror in the bathroom.

In some, you can see that some effort had been put into styling the shots.

Like one where one woman had cut out heart-shaped holes in her T-shirt that exposed her vital parts.

Please, we know what we are doing, insist the women, who are studying for their diploma at an arts institution.

They are open about sharing their nude selfies, or sexting, with their boyfriends.

"It's not a secret at all," says the slim and attractive Hazel Kwong.

And they do this despite the risk of the photos being leaked or used for blackmail.

Two weeks ago, electrical wireman Mani Velmuruga was jailed for 32 months after pleading guilty to nine charges of criminal intimidation. He had tricked 17 women he met online into sending him nude pictures of themselves. He threatened to post the pictures online if they did not have sex with him.

Miss Kwong, 18, claims that she was "at first very shy" about taking her nude photos.

"My boyfriend told me that his best buddy's girlfriend was doing that, and asked me if I'd consider doing the same for him," she says.

That was sometime in July last year and she had been dating Mr Leonard Koh for about six months.

Mr Koh, 19, insists that he was "only joking" and did not expect Miss Kwong to agree.

He says: "I know that she is very shy. So I was just testing the waters when I asked her."

Miss Grace Sim, 18, reckons there is no reason to get uptight over sexting.

She says: "It's not like I share them on Facebook or Instagram, or some public platform.

"I am only sending my photos to the man I love and I don't see what is wrong with that."

Based on findings from its 2014 Love, Relationships and Technology survey, Internet security company McAfee revealed last month that most adults share such details via unsecured digital devices.

Of the 1,500 US consumers polled, 54 per cent send or receive intimate content on their mobile devices. And 70 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds receive intimate content.

Mr Koh's best friend, who wants to be known only as Denny, thinks it should be a case of "do it for the one you love".

The 19-year-old was the one who initiated the sexting with Miss Sim last year.

"We have been dating for nearly two years and it's not like I have not seen her without her clothes," he says with a straight face.

And that appears to be the sentiment shared by their friends.

Says one friend, 19, who wants to be known only as Cloud: "Please lah, what age is this? If you are in a relationship, chances are you'd have sex with your partner. So how does sexting make it any worse than that?"

There's another reason she takes such selfies: Confidence in her looks.

"If you are pretty, have the assets, I don't see why you cannot flaunt it," says Cloud, who takes full body nude selfies.

"There is nothing vulgar or crude in my photos. I don't have the come-hither look in my eyes, so it's not like an invitation to sex," she explains.

Another friend, 18, who does not want to be named, says: "I love to send surprises to my boyfriend and this is one way I make sure he doesn't stray."

Her boyfriend, 21, who wants to be known only as James, says: "I'm very touched that my girlfriend wants to do that for me.

"And because of this, I will stay true to her. Not many women will be willing to please their boyfriends this way."

Miss Sim insists that the nude selfies also give them a chance to be creative.

She says: "It's not always obscene. And please, nudity does not mean it is porn."

Suggest that these nude photos could get leaked, or worst, be used as blackmail and Mr Koh retorts: "Are you trying to say we will be so unethical? That will of course not happen."

Denny chips in: "We won't be so callous as to do something like that."

And if their phones get lost?

"Nah, nothing to worry about since our phones all have pass codes and settings are done such that all data will be destroyed after a certain number of unsuccessful tries," says Miss Kwong.

But ask them if these are photos they will show their parents, and all of them laugh nervously.

Says Miss Kwong: "I guess not. But that's only because our parents are probably like you - too conservative.

"They should learn to chill."

maureenk@sph.com.sg

What experts say

The psychiatrist says:

They crave affection and attention, so many seek love online.

Such women tend to be more vulnerable and easily manipulated, so others prey on their neediness, says Dr Adrian Wang, a consultant psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre.

"Also, being online sometimes gives people a 'bubble' mentality. They tend to forget that everything they say or do online can be made public.

"Yet they continue to be lulled into a false sense of complacency that what they say or do is private - which is not the case," he explains.

Dr Wang also says emotions get the better of some when they think they are "deeply in love".

"And in the heat of passion, a woman tends to do something impulsive, like sending naked photos of herself, which she may regret later."

The sociologist says:

With the onslaught of information of different cultures and subcultures online, it is not surprising that the youth of today are more liberal in their outlook and values when it comes to nude selfies.

Associate Professor Patrick Williams, a sociologist from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Nanyang Technological University, says it is easy for young people to learn, understand and sometimes assimilate with the many cultures brought into homes through the Internet and social media, and some of these cultures have different values.

He says not everyone is skittish or conservative about his or her own naked body.

And while there is a lot of focus on why women disrobe for selfies, he says not enough questions are raised on why the boys are asking for these photos.

The lawyer says:

While it is against the law to keep, distribute or sell pornographic materials under the Undesirable Publications Act and the Penal Code, the authorities have discretion on who deserves to be prosecuted and who deserves to be slapped on the wrist, says lawyer Chia Boon Teck.

"For young women sending out personal pictures to another individual for some harmless personal fun, the authorities are unlikely to prosecute them as that seems rather harsh," Mr Chia says.

"For men who exploit and abuse such pictures, their intent and motivation deserve condemnation and their chances of being prosecuted are high."

Get The New Paper for more stories.