Yesterday, I encountered an all too common, but kind of modern, ethical dilemma. While searching through my old emails for an address I stumbled upon a message that contained nude pictures of an ex. Since the invention of pocket porn studies (smart phones) most people in modern relationships have sent nude pics to their lovers and friends and, until the popularity of Snapchat, those pictures were pretty permanent. That brings me to my conundrum, what do I do with pictures of ex partners?
My intuition is to just trash them, but intuition isn’t good enough to guide just actions. My primary moral guide (the non-aggression principle) isn’t really a lot of help. I am certainly not harming or aggressing against my ex by having these pictures or by using them for masturbatory pleasure. I guess you could make the argument that there is an implied contract when you send the pictures that they are only to be used and kept during the duration of the relationship. I’m not sure if implicit agreements are really a good thing to assume, and these particular pictures are from a fuck-buddy who I am still on good terms with. It wasn’t a romantic relationship and it wasn’t a bad separation, we just stopped living in the same area. Should I treat photos in the same way that I would treat other items?
Take, as an imperfect example, a situation where an ex let me borrow a jacket and after we separated I still had the jacket. If it was raining outside and I needed to go out to get the mail, would it be unethical of me to wear the jacket to keep dry? I would think not. It isn’t harming anything. But, does the situation change if I have access to other jackets but simply prefer my ex-partner’s jacket because it is comfortable, familiar, and I know it will get the job done? Again, I would think not. I am still not harming anyone. Is sexual release (and pleasure) a different ethical category? I don’t think so.
This also raises other questions. Like, is it wrong to think about an ex or a friend or a celebrity while masturbating? The “be excellent to each other” half of my moral code offers little to no guidance. Using my mind to receive pleasure through fantasy harms nobody by itself. I think it is probably socially unacceptable to admit to fantasizing or using photos of your friends for sexual pleasure, but society is pretty terrible as a moral compass, especially a society like in the US that is incredibly sex-negative and shaming.
So, I am left without a real answer. I think the appropriate middle-ground would be to contact the women in the photos and ask if they want me to destroy them or if they care if I keep them. We live in an interesting time.