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Washington University School of Law




Every generation’s intimates have their preferred modes of self-disclosure. Not long ago, intimate partners exchanged love letters and mixed tapes. They spent hours on the phone. Today, they text their innermost thoughts, beliefs, and wishes, sometimes with nude photos attached. They engage in sexually-explicit activity via FaceTime and SnapChat.

Now, as then, the success and integrity of intimate relationships depends upon sexual privacy. Intimate relationships develop as partners grow to trust one another to treat their nakedness, deepest secrets, and sexual desires as they hope rather than as they fear. Handling partners’ personal information with discretion lays the foundation for trust that is crucial to intimacy.

My previous work conceptualized sexual privacy as a distinct privacy interest that deserves comprehensive legal protection. In this Article, I drill down on a crucial reason why sexual privacy matters—as a precondition to intimate relationships. Sexual privacy invasions wreak havoc on the project of intimacy. When individuals secretly videotape others undressing or having sex or when they post former intimates’ nude photos online, victims find it difficult to trust others. Victims fear that revealing their naked bodies and intimate information will end in unwanted exhibition and exploitation. Law and technology have potential to reinforce trust and sexual privacy in intimate relationships, but they require careful assessment to ensure that they do not undermine them.

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