Why we’ll never stop taking naked photos

The theft of celebrity pics highlights how essential nude selfies have become to sexual self-expression

Topics: Sex, selfies, Selfie, Sexting, nude photos, nude selfies, Editor's Picks,

Why we'll never stop taking naked photos (Credit: kaczka via iStock)

One thing brought up by this theft of celebrity nudes is the question of why we take naked photos in the first place. I don’t mean that in the victim-blaming sense of “that’s so dumb, why would you ever take a naked photo because obviously everyone will see it.” Although I do think it’s remarkable that naked photo leaks and thefts have seemingly done little to deter this impulse; clearly, taking naked photos is an important part of many people’s sexuality. We’ve taken, and allowed other people to take, naked photos of ourselves since long before the age of the smartphone or the portentous “cloud.” For as long as photography has existed, so too have nude photographs. But why?

In part, it can feel like a truer way of seeing yourself, says Madeleine Castellanos, a psychiatrist specializing in sexuality. “There is a universal curiosity to be able to see ourselves as other people see us,” she says. “By taking a picture, we can get a more objective and removed view that, at least in our mind, might come closer to what another person sees when they look at us.” She adds, “In the same spirit of seeing ourselves as other people do, taking pictures of yourself also helps feed this urge to constantly compare yourself to others to see if you are as attractive or sexy.” With the explosion of online porn, there is just so much more to compare yourself to.

You Might Also Like

The cultural critic John Berger once wrote, “To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself.” Ian Kerner, a New York sex therapist, says of this line, “He was speaking of societal objectification of the body, but when we take a nude photo of ourselves and share it with a lover we are recognized for oneself sexually and that’s extremely powerful and arousing. The power of exhibitionism lies in being seen and being appreciated and to experience this recognition at a sexual level is intensely stimulating.” But when these photos are shared in a less intimate way — and certainly in a non-consensual context — “the more one is nude in the sense that Berger meant,” Kerner argues.

There’s also an element of submission in sharing a naked selfie, he says. “To be able to share a sexy photo with a partner can be an expression of the safety and security in a relationship, which makes them all the more arousing,” he explains. If only it was as simple as having a trustworthy partner. Kerner adds that “nude photos can be a kind of sexy secret between two partners, a token and totem of the intimacy between two people.” When you share a nudie pic in the context of a relationship, it’s both a pledge and leap of faith that nothing will go wrong in the relationship. No cheating, no lies, no betrayals, no heartbreak — nothing that could fracture trust or inspire revenge. A naked photo is a virtual promise ring.

Of course, on the most basic level, naked photos are about sexual performance, even when they’re intended for an audience of one. ”When working with patients on their fantasies, exhibitionism is high on the list, and taking or sending photos is a fairly normalized, and culturally accepted, version of exhibitionism,” he says. “It’s a way of dipping a toe into the shallow end of sexual adventurousness.”

Kerner makes another point that might be especially relevant in the case of female celebrities’ nudes: “We live in an age of sexual objectification, and taking a sexy selfie or allowing a partner to do so is a way of taking control of the objectification process and feeling sexually empowered, or enjoying that objectification through the eyes of an intimate partner.”  A naked selfie might be a powerful way for a female star, whose career is built around her physique and sex appeal, to reclaim her body — which just makes the recent photo thefts that much more of an insult.

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...