Help! My Friend May Have Uploaded a Sex Video of His Ex.

Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 3 2013 6:00 AM

Unwilling Amateur

My friend may have uploaded a sex video of his ex. Should I tell her?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
A few days ago a friend sent me the link to a porn video that stars the (recently) ex-girlfriend of a mutual good friend. The video is clearly shot in private, and although it shows her face it doesn't have her name on it. This girl behaved really badly and completely shattered my friend's heart, and while I don't want to believe he would put something like this online, he is so hurt that it's not outside the realm of possibility. She would lose her job and her career if this video was found, and she comes from a very conservative family. My questions: What are my obligations here? Do I ask my friend about it? Contact the ex? Part of me wished I could forget that I saw it at all.

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—Porn Confusion

Dear Confusion,
In my day people took sexy Polaroids of each other then hid them in the sock drawer. After a bad breakup, they took the pictures out of the gym sock and burned them. It’s too bad that one can no longer memorialize one’s hotness with such nonchalance. As my colleague Emily Bazelon recently described, this new plague of revenge porn is ruining lives and there is currently little legal recourse. (California just passed a law making posting such material a misdemeanor.) I talked to expert Danielle Citron, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and author of the forthcoming book, Hate 3.0, about what can be done for this woman. First of all, contact your friend. If indeed he is the perpetrator, you should tell him that you have now seen the video. Tell him you know his ex did him wrong, but he should not compound the wrongdoing by exacting such vicious revenge. Citron says if he posted to a site where he controls his content, he could simply take down the video. Let’s hope it hasn’t been more widely disseminated and that her name hasn’t gotten attached. But if he gave it to a revenge porn website, then unfortunately he’s really lost control of it.

You should also contact the ex-girlfriend. She’s entitled to know the bad news, which has the potential for painful professional and personal consequences. Citron says that if the video was a selfie, the woman would own the copyright. In that case it would be worth it for her to hire a lawyer to write a letter to the site operator where it’s being posted without her permission. But its being taken down is far from assured. If the woman is sure that the images were posted by her ex, Citron laid out other legal avenues she could explore, such as filing a civil claim of infliction of emotional distress or seeking criminal harassment action be taken against him. But Citron notes pursuing a civil lawsuit would be expensive and that law enforcement has taken a lax attitude toward these cases. Sadly, because of technology, people need to be aware when giving sexual photographs or videos of themselves to a paramour that love may die, but the images could live on forever.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Way Too Candid Camera

Dear Prudence,
I'm a 25-year-old woman who has a higher than average sex drive. I masturbate a lot and enjoy watching pornography. Several months ago I started posting naked pictures and videos of myself masturbating (none showing my face or any identifying features) on a porn site where people upload amateur videos. It's been a big turn on for me to post them and to read messages from the men who've watched me. However, I have just started seeing a guy I really like. I don't know if this is something I should tell him about now or ever. It could be fun to make videos together if we both were into it, but it is not a requirement. It’s far more important to me to build a fulfilling sex life with my partner. Should I take all my videos down and put it in the past? Should I tell him about it, and if so, when and how?

—Amateur Erotic Filmmaker

Dear Erotic,
Before you get off on making those videos with your brand new love, read the previous letter. Then go to the website you’ve posted to—I hope it’s one that allows the contributors to control their content—and take down your movies. You say no identifying features are visible, and I hope that’s true. But let’s say you’re a girl with a dragonfly tattoo, one that can be seen in your erotica. I’m guessing your tattoo would also be visible in endless Facebook images you’ve posted. In the near future, it will probably only take a few strokes for an interested viewer to use recognition technology to put these images together and identify you. It’s a good policy to assume that no matter what privacy protections you use, anything you post online could become open source. As for your new love interest, you’re just at the early stages with him, so you have no present obligation to reveal all. If you two do become a serious couple, then I think you probably should tell him about your onetime hobby. If he’s appalled and repulsed by your actions, then you two aren’t on the same erotic wavelength.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
My best friend is expecting her first child, and I couldn't be more excited for her. Unfortunately, she recently asked if I would host her gender reveal party, because (sign of the apocalypse!) this is a thing that people do now. She is getting a sonogram next week to determine her baby's gender and the results will go directly into a sealed envelope. They will pass that to me and I will open it. Depending on the result, I will fill a large box with either pink or blue balloons that she and her husband will open at this party, in front of dozens of friends and family. I have gone to more than my share of bachelorette parties, bridal showers, bridal luncheons, engagement parties, and baby showers without complaint and usually with enjoyment. But the gender reveal trend leaves a bad taste. This is a stupid idea, right? I'm pretty much already roped into hosting, so my question is: How do I pull this party off without giving away how narcissistic and unnecessary I think it is?

—It's a Whatever!

Dear Whatever,
For signs of the apocalypse brought to you by technological innovation, see also the first letter. I totally agree that the gender reveal is a noxious trend. It puts undue emphasis on a baby’s sex with all the accompanying pink and blue assumptions. It also encourages making public displays out of private moments. This whole thing makes me wish society would adopt the attitude from a more superstitious age. In Jewish tradition one does not have a shower for a pregnant woman so as not to attract the attention of the Angel of Death, and a baby’s name is not announced until after the birth. The mother-to-be may be your best friend, but that shouldn’t mean you get roped into doing things that leave you uneasy. If the invitations haven’t already gone out, talk to your friend. Tell her you couldn’t be more excited for her, but that finding out the sex of the baby is something private between her and her husband and you are simply uncomfortable with the notion of making this an event. If people are already planning to come, tell your friend you don’t want to be the one to announce this news. Say you’re happy to host a party—you’ll supply both pink and blue balloons—but that the envelope should stay in her possession, as the news, like the baby, is for her to deliver.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
When I was in high school my dream was to become a professional writer. My teachers were very encouraging but my parents refused to allow me to study creative writing in college, saying I needed to pursue something "safe" like nursing, which I did. The writing urge has never completely gone away and in the last couple of years I've come up with a unique (I think) way of dealing with it. I compose and send in made-up letters to advice columns and keep track of how many are published. Apparently I'm pretty convincing, because out of the two dozen or so I've made up, over half have made it into the paper. I get a kick out of seeing my letters published but I'm beginning to wonder if this is a little strange. I chose you to receive my first "real" letter because I usually agree with your advice. So please give me your honest opinion on my hobby. I don't feel that I'm hurting anyone but is this a strange thing for someone to do?

—I Swear This Letter Is 100 Percent True

Dear Swear,
I’d say thanks for leaving me out of your experiments, but your sign-off has me feeling as if I’ve just been sucked into a variation of the liar's paradox. I adamantly refuse to believe you are the author of the "twincest" letter! Years ago, students at Yale waged a long-running scam on Ann Landers, inventing letters and then crowing about it when she bit. Of course, I have wondered if some Prudie letters are fiction, but the reality of the human condition never fails to amaze and I have an abiding belief that the overwhelming majority of letters are real. I’m not about to contact the writers and fact-check their darkest secrets. I would hate to think I’ve been hoaxed, and I can’t endorse your hobby, but you have every right to it. However, given your high success rate, you clearly have an understanding of provocative, but credible, dilemmas. If you really want to pursue your writing dream, I’d suggest going into nursing could be the best thing to happen to you. Your profession must be providing you with endless material about humanity in extremis. So I say start plotting that novel based on your experiences. If it gets published, I want an invitation to the book party.

—Prudie

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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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