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Is It Legal to Send Inappropriate Pictures to Someone?

CA Laws on Sending Inappropriate Pictures to Someone

Sexting occurs when one person sends sexual messages to another person through a phone or computer. These messages often come in the form of pictures, videos, and words, and typically help people explore “trust, boundaries, and intimacy,” according to Kids Help Phone. Sexting may also be used for hurtful purposes, such as bullying and blackmailing.

For background, sexts can involve:

  • Sexual text messages
  • Nude photos and/or videos
  • Live chats through webcams involving sexual activity
  • Screenshots of naked and/or sexually suggestive images or videos

With this in mind, it makes sense that sensitive content like this must be treated with the utmost care. Sexts are private and personal, therefore, they must be handled appropriately. For instance, a couple married for 20 years may sext each other frequently, but they still must be cautious to avoid letting their sexts get in the wrong hands. Similarly, a couple who recently started dating may sext each other but consider deleting the content afterward to best prevent a bad situation from happening.

It’s important to note that sexting between minors (people under 18) is illegal in CA. While two consenting adults (18 and over) may legally sext each other, there are certain laws to be aware of. The following CA laws describe the dangers of not sexting safely or legally, which is why we encourage you to read further.

Child Pornography

You may be found guilty of sexual exploitation of a child if you knowingly develop, duplicate, print, or exchange any information, data, or image that contains or incorporates a depiction of a minor engaged in sexual conduct. “Sexual conduct” includes:

  • Sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal
  • Penetration of the vagina or rectum by any object
  • Masturbation for the purpose of sexual stimulation of the viewer
  • Sadomasochistic abuse for the purpose of sexual stimulation of the viewer
  • Exhibition of the genitals or the pubic or rectal area of any person for the purpose of sexual stimulation of the viewer
  • Defecation or urination for the purpose of sexual stimulation of the viewer

Possessing or Controlling Obscene Depictions of a Minor

It is a felony to knowingly possess or control any matter or representation of information, data, or image that involves the use of a minor, knowing that the matter depicts a minor personally engaging in or simulating sexual conduct. If convicted, you could face up to 1 year in jail and/or a $2,500 fine, depending on the circumstances of your case.

Sending Obscene Matter

California makes it a misdemeanor for people to commit the following acts:

  • Knowingly sending or bringing obscene matter into the state for sale or distribution
  • Possessing, preparing, producing, or printing obscene matter with the intent to distribute or exhibit it to others
  • Offering to distribute, distributing, or exhibiting obscene matter to others

A previous conviction for this offense is punishable by a $50,000 fine.

Sending Harmful Matter to Seduce a Minor

Sexting involves sending harmful matter, which is defined as matter that appeals to the prurient interest and depicts or describes sexual conduct that, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors. Don’t be fooled into thinking that harmful matter automatically implies hurtful matter, as it can include a broad range of material that minors wouldn’t necessarily find “harmful.”

However, that material can easily become harmful if it’s mishandled and abused.

In California, every person who knows, should have known, or believes that a person is a minor and knowingly distributes, sends, exhibits, or offers to distribute or exhibit any harmful matter that depicts a minor engaging in sexual conduct for the purpose or intent of:

  • arousing,
  • appealing to,
  • or gratifying the lust, passions, or sexual desires of that person or the minor,
  • engaging in sexual intercourse, sodomy, or oral copulation with the other person, or
  • either person touching an intimate body part of another

is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail or a felony punishable by 2 to 5 years in prison. Both charges vary depending on the nature of your allegations.

Safe Sexting Tips

After learning the information above, our attorneys urge you to review the following safety tips on sexting. Doing so may help you avoid getting into trouble:

  • Don’t send or show sexts to anybody else
  • Delete the sext as soon as possible
  • Ensure both parties consent to sending/receiving sexts
  • Adjust your phone and computer settings as needed (i.e. turning off the ‘preview message’ setting)
  • Consider alternative ways to express your love, trust, or attraction to someone
  • Avoid sexting while under the influence
  • Don’t include identifiable information in the content (i.e. face, name, tattoos, birthmarks, etc.)

Questions? Reach out to our lawyers online or at (805) 467-6060!