Rick’s eyes lit up as soon as he looked at his phone mid-happy hour. His excitement was so apparent that his friends immediately knew something was up. As such, there was no use lying to them: The 27-year-old brand manager admitted that he’d just gotten a nude from a girl he was dating, who coincidentally, one of his barmates had also dated. Immediately, the friend recalled in specific detail a nude he’d received from her — the same one, in fact, that had just arrived on Rick’s phone.
The rest of the table erupted in laughter, and Rick says even now that the phrase “last season’s nudes” is still a go-to inside joke. When he told the sender that he and his friend (accidentally!) figured her out, she responded that “the pic was great, held up for a long time and insinuated that we weren’t the only two to receive it.”
Luckily, he agreed: “It’s always rad to receive a nude, and she did look great, so what would my complaint be?”
More largely, it figures that as sending nudes has become more popular, the likelihood of said nudes being recycled has also increased. “My personal theory is that 85 percent-plus of nudes sent are recycled,” says Matt, a 27-year-old musician. Unlike Rick, however, most people don’t have a friend to confirm their suspicion. That is, unless they know where to look. In fact, there’s a super simple way for iPhone users to detect when a photo was taken: If you save a photo you receive via iMessage and open it within your photos, a time stamp of when the photo was taken will appear.
That’s why, as a precautionary measure, some women who like sending throwback nudes tell me that they screenshot the photo to adjust the timestamp. “I recycle and pre-shoot nudes all the time,” says Katie, a 28-year-old record label employee. “I like to shoot when I feel cute and save for later.”
Of course, there are more obvious tells, too. “I’d just started seeing this girl who sent me a nude, but her hair was dyed a different color. So I crept on her Instagram and saw that she had red hair about four months before we met. The picture being recycled made the whole situation feel a lot less personal,” says 23-year-old Devin.
His reaction isn’t abnormal. Plenty of men consider nudes super intimate, with original content being a reflection of commitment to the recipient. “I personally am only passionate about custom nudes,” says Freddie, a 33-year-old who works at a nonprofit. “Recycled nudes are the same as copy/pasting the same text. It shows you don’t really care and aren’t invested in me.” There are also larger issues at play. “Sex has been centered around male pleasure for centuries, so it doesn’t surprise me that [straight men] are sensitive about it,” says sexologist Shelby Sells.
Others admit they feel uncomfortable thinking about exes having received the same nudes, a blatant reminder of their partner’s sexual history. “I will accept a recycled nude, but it’s annoying because someone else has gotten that same one before me,” says Gabriel, a 23-year-old artist. “Recycled nudes are a reminder that someone else has gotten it already, and another person will get that photo next.”
While Sells doesn’t “necessarily think anyone owes anything when exchanging nudes,” she does admit, “If you’re sending someone a really old nude (i.e., you don’t have that hair color anymore), it generally shows disinterest.”
All that said, though, most of the men I spoke to truly didn’t mind getting recycled nudes — they were just elated to see a titty (or dick). “I’m usually happy to have received a nude at all, let alone to ever care about who else has seen it. That specific type of masculine paranoia doesn’t even cross my mind. It’s a strange and possessive space,” says Alex, a 25-year-old strategist from Indianapolis.
The same goes for Callum, a 28-year-old recruiting manager from San Francisco, who considers exchanging nudes a huge part of his vetting process of potential hookups on gay dating apps. “A nude is a nude, so for me it’s just reaffirming that I’m down,” he explains. If anything, he assumes all of the nudes he receives on Scruff or Grindr are recycled for efficiency’s sake.
“I thoroughly appreciate anyone sharing and trusting me with anything that intimate and their past doesn’t play into my relationship with them at all,” adds Dane a 31-year-old professional skateboarder from San Diego.
“The fact that someone is willing to trust me with photos of their private parts is already cool enough,” continues Samuel, a 34-year-old writer from Boston who believes his approach to recycled nudes has to do with his polyamorous lifestyle. “I don’t feel the need to get nitpicky and ask for special treatment. If I do get an original, it’s even more special. People who are aware of my situation [multiple partners with one primary] usually get involved with me because there’s less commitment. And that goes both ways I think.”
To that point, as the frequency of nude selfies (both sent and taken) has increased, our ideas around relationships, possession and control have also moved toward a more open space. So be sure to remain grateful, or be doomed to a nudeless existence. “A big part of exchanging nudes is about taking the time to look good for someone you like,” says Sells. “I know we’re all busy 24/7 in this generation, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have a few on file to send to your partner for the old, ‘I was thinking of you the other night and took these’ as long as it’s clear it was meant for them.”
It’s also worth always keeping in mind Devin’s cardinal rule: “Even a bad nude is still good. Kind of like pizza.”