If there’s one thing more fun that relationship drama on reddit, it’s having a Hot Take on relationship drama on reddit. I am obsessed with not just /r/relationship_advice but also /r/amitheasshole, not just because it’s fun to laugh at assholes but also because they sometimes throw up interesting ethical dilemmas to chew over. Today: is it weird to keep your ex’s nudes/knickers when you break up? Reddit says ‘yes’, I say ‘no’, but on one important condition…
Is it weird to want to keep my ex’s nudes?
Let’s tackle the easy question first: I don’t think it’s weird to want to keep your ex’s nudes. If they’ve sent you sexy photos, or you’ve taken nude photos/video together, those digital files presumably document fun and happy times that you’ve spent together. It’s no more weird to want to keep them than it is to want to keep holiday snaps – reminiscing about good things that have happened in the past is a natural human desire.
I know we’re meant to put sex on a pedestal with tape around it that says ‘THIS IS DIFFERENT: BEWARE’ but I genuinely don’t think it is that different. I keep love letters, emails, photos, gifts, tickets, and a whole bunch of other stuff from ex-boyfriends, not because I am still in love with them now but because I want to remember that I was in love with them once upon a time.
I also keep my ex’s nudes. Because I want to remember how fun it was to fuck them once upon a time, too.
But with one important caveat: you need to have their consent.
Consent and nudes
You knew that was coming, right? The consent thing? It’s the bedrock of the answer to pretty much every sexual ethics question. Is it OK to sniff my girlfriend’s panties while I wank? Yes, if you have her consent. Is it OK to share this photo of my boyfriend’s dick with my best mates when we’re out on the town? Yes, if you have his consent. Can I tie my partner up and spank them, take pictures of their roped-up, red-tinged bottom, then print them out and frame them so I have something to decorate the hallway? Yes, if you have their consent.
The original reddit thread which prompted this post was about a guy who kept used underwear, and nudes, from ex-partners. His new partner found those and hit the roof: why would he want this stuff? Why would he keep this stuff? Was it OK to tell him to chuck them out?
In the responses, commenters responded that it was ‘weird’ that he wanted to keep these things. One suggested it was ‘gross and disrespectful’ and added ‘personally, if he’s not willing to dump all of that in the trash and delete the nude selfies immediately, I couldn’t continue the relationship.’ Which struck me as really odd: would the same person insist that a new partner get rid of all their other digital/physical memories of an ex? The pictures of them on holiday, the theatre tickets from their first date, or the hand-written recipe for amazing daal that they learned how to cook together? Granted, the situation (which has since been deleted) was one where consent was not entirely clear, and in situations like that I would 100% stand behind anyone who felt weirded out by it: if you’re with someone who you like, you want to know that your consent (or lack of it) will still be respected after you break up, not just while you’re together. But if the people who gave those nudes and knickers consented to their ex keeping them, I am not sure I can get behind the idea that they should be burned/deleted/expunged as soon as that person gets a new partner.
I get that sex feels special, and is treated differently to other things, I’m just not sure I fully understand why. I have sexy pictures of some of my ex-partners. A few are physical photos that we took and got printed at the time (risky!) which I simply cannot bear to throw out. Others are digital copies which float around in various folders, coming with me from computer to computer, because the idea of hitting ‘delete’ on these filthy and delicious memories is almost too much to bear.
The guys who feature in these photos know I have them, and have consented to me keeping them. One asked me once to forward him a copy of his favourite, because he’d changed his email address and lost his own, and didn’t want to forget that hot thing we did that time. Others are from guys I’m no longer in touch with. And therein lies a more interesting ethical dilemma.
Is there a time limit on keeping your ex’s nudes?
No matter how hard you try to be friends with your exes, you probably won’t keep in touch them all forever. I’m certainly not. There are a few exs who I still see, but despite my desperate curiosity about what they’re up to in their lives, and the fact I still really enjoy hanging out with some of them, inevitably people get busy and drift off to different things. It’d be weird to send annual emails checking in with people I’ve fucked to say ‘you know I still have pictures of your dick? May I have your ongoing consent to keep them?’
You can ask someone’s consent at the moment of break-up, say ‘can I keep your nudes to remember you by?’ and get a yes, but what do you do five, ten, twenty, fifty years down the line, when you don’t know that ex-partner any more? Can I assume that if they get married it’s time to delete? Or if they get a job in politics? Or do you think they – like the people in the Reddit thread – will be deleting mine the moment they find a new partner, and their consent only extended to the period of time before I found someone new as well? This is all very monogamy-heavy, I’m sorry. Needless to say, you do not need to only have one partner at a time if you’re into ethical nonmonogamy, nor do you need to see your life as a series of partnered phases with brief breaks for singledom in between. That’s just how these discussions tend to shake out, because that’s what society tells us is ‘normal’ – it’s also why I reckon we can get better answers to these questions if we think more carefully about them. Consider ‘what do I actually want?’ and ‘what might my partners want?’ rather than defaulting to the expected response of jealousy and anger if someone keeps memories of their ex.
I want to keep my ex’s nudes. If I split up with my current partner, I’d like to keep some of his. We’ve got folders of pictures that we’ve taken together, most of which are attached to amazing memories and hot nights. I don’t want to lose all that just because we break up, and I wouldn’t want to delete them just because someone new was on the scene. But am I being weird here? If I still have these photos when I’m 90, have I done someone a terrible injustice? And if so, what’s a reasonable length of time? I’ll have copies of holiday snaps and Lego projects and home renovations until the day I shuffle off this mortal coil. For how long am I allowed to remember the sex?