What to do if someone shares your sext with their friends, because we know it can be awful

These days, sexting is more popular than ever. Tons of people do it regularly, with a recent study even finding that at least 1 in 7 teens has sent a sext. While having an active sex life is a normal part of being a teenager — and there’s definitely nothing wrong with sharing intimate messages with your partner — there can, unfortunately, be some pretty devastating and unintended consequences to sexting when you’re young, especially if someone shares your sext with their friends.

If someone has betrayed your trust by sharing your sext, whether it’s an image or just words, we have some advice to help you get through this overwhelming time.

A sext is an intimate gesture that’s only supposed to be shared between you and the person (or people) you sent it to.

So if the sext gets sent around without your permission, it can be beyond mortifying. But it’s important to put the situation into perspective and realize that no matter how completely awful you feel, the world is not going to end. We promise. We know that’s hard to remember, especially when you are feeling vulnerable, violated, and embarrassed, but it really is the truth.

Of course, there are real consequences that can come from sexting, and they might not just be emotional ones. If your nude image ends up in the wrong person’s hands, some states have incredibly harsh laws if you’re under the “age of consent,” which sex educator Kim Cavill notes is usually 17 or 18. (You can read more about sexting laws here.) So you should be aware of how sending nudes can technically be illegal in some states.

But, generally, if someone shares your sext, your biggest concern will be the emotional fallout from having your trust broken. “While there is no way to handle it that takes the pain away, there are reactions that can make things worse,” licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Lucie Hemmen tells HelloGiggles.

So no matter what your sext said or showed, here are some ways to deal with someone sharing it that will hopefully help you cope with this incredibly sensitive situation.

Avoid talking about it with your friends

While your first instinct may be to confide in your best friends about the situation, Dr. Hemmen advises that may not be the best course of action. She says that reaching out to people your own age “to express anger or outrage may increase attention and visibility.” As the sext was meant for just the recipient, you don’t necessarily want more people within your social circle knowing and talking about it.

Speak to an adult

You shouldn’t bottle up your emotions, though. It’s absolutely a good thing to open up and discuss what you’re going through; Dr. Hemmen recommends speaking to a trusted adult in your life rather than your friends. It can be a teacher, school counselor, parent, aunt, uncle — whoever makes you feel comfortable. This will allow you to talk about the issue without worrying that it could possibly be spread around school or your social group more. This older person may also help to remind you that this will eventually pass.

See a therapist

While you’ll probably have to speak to your parent or guardian to arrange this if you don’t already have a therapist (for health insurance purposes), know that mental health professionals are excellent people to confide in. It’s their job to listen to you, and you may feel most comfortable speaking to a completely uninvolved person.

Don’t beat yourself up

You thought you were sending a personal image or message to a person you trusted, and while you can use this as a lesson for the future, the person who distributed the text is the one in the wrong. Remember that there’s no such thing as “asking for it,” and don’t let the people who have shared the sext manipulate you into thinking otherwise.

Use online resources

There are a number of websites dedicated to this type of issue because, unfortunately, you are far from the only person who has been betrayed like this. Without My Consent is a particularly helpful website that provides resources on what you can do, including how to get in touch with an advocate who may help you feel less helpless and alone. Other helpful sites include Online SOS and the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

Ask the recipient to delete the sext

You will be dealing with some complicated feelings, so you may not want to confront the person you sent the sext to. But if your sext was a photo, Cavill says that you should text the person and ask them to delete the image right away. If there was no photo, you can still ask the person to delete the message if that makes you feel more comfortable. No matter what — even if you think the person will disregard your feelings — you should let them know that how they’re treating you and what they’ve done is not okay.

And ask the recipient to talk to the people they sent the sext to

While you might feel like this is a long shot, Cavill also says that in the case of nudes, you’ll want to ask the recipient to tell anyone else who has the sext to delete the image as well.

Then, document your requests

As Cavill mentioned, sexting an image could possibly cause you legal issues depending on your age. While that’s a worst-case scenario, Cavill recommends documenting the fact that you asked the recipient (and the people they shared it with) to delete the photo. Cavill suggests you screenshot a picture of your request and save it so that you can prove that the person no longer has your consent to possess the photo.

Practice self-care

Dr. Hemmen says “after the intensity of the crisis diminishes,” it’s time to focus on self-care. “We tend to think about eating right and exercising and sleeping, but being careful with personal sexual boundaries is part of self-care.”

The overarching message is that sexts can have unforeseen consequences if sent to a person who isn’t worthy of your trust. And while you can’t take it back, you’re not alone. And it’s never your fault if someone violates your trust.

Cavill also notes that many people are coerced or pressured into sexting. If you receive a nude photo that you didn’t ask for, you should tell an adult and then delete the photo.

On the flip side, Cavill says, “If someone is pressuring [you] for nudes, not accepting ‘no’ for an answer, or resorting to threats or blackmail, those are red flags that the relationship isn’t healthy and additional help/support is needed.” She advises reaching out to a trusted adult or calling RAINN’s national sexual assault hotline, at 1-800-656-4673.

As Cavill says, “No one deserves to be harassed, either in real life or online.” And that absolutely goes for when your trust has been broken by someone sharing your sext.