Disclaimer: Out of respect for individuals involved, we are deliberately withholding all names, images, and social media handles. We will also remove all Facebook comments revealing personal information.
12 years ago, a female student experienced a vicious violation of her privacy. Her phone was stolen and a 10-minute video recording of her having sex was uploaded online. The incident made national headlines.
We know this woman as “Tammy NYP”.
Today, the term “Tammy NYP” isn’t just her ‘name’. It’s also a noun that brings to mind the gravity of the abuse: the first notable local sex tape leak just before the era of social media. This pivotal moment crystallised the relationship between sex and shame in our society.
The video went viral for two main reasons.
First, before Tammy NYP, no one really knew anyone who filmed themselves having sex. Sex tapes were associated with Western pornography, too liberal for our conservative Asian society. As such, the raunchy nature of the video itself was secondary to the fact that the act of intimacy was filmed at all.
Second, and more importantly, many thrived on the culture of shame surrounding sex itself. Never mind that the tape was filmed in the privacy of her own bedroom, Tammy was now a “slut” and “deserved” whatever predicament she now found herself in.
Even though many shamed Tammy for making a sex tape and encouraged her to drop out of school, she didn’t go into hiding. She remained in school and graduated with her diploma, effectively implying that there was nothing wrong about making a sex tape.
I bring up Tammy NYP for one specific reason: this culture hasn’t changed.
After 12 years, the toxic way in which we address sex ‘scandals’ has only gotten more explicit, as evident from the recent influencer sex tape saga.
In this instance, the tapes were shared on a blogging site and an online forum. Most have since been removed by moderators on both platforms. No one involved has publicly addressed the situation, nor confirmed whether it was a hack or leak. Police investigations are ongoing.
According to him, “these things” were bound to get leaked, and nothing good could come out of it. He wondered why anyone would want their most private moments recorded, when they wouldn’t want anyone else except their partner to see them. From his perspective, their partner would also be able to actually have sex with them, and so, wouldn’t need to look at a video of them in the act.
I suspect his simplistic opinion is shared by many. No matter how well-intentioned, this type of judgement strengthens the culture of silence surrounding sex, ensuring few ever speak up or open up about their experiences, fears, and desires, lest they get shamed.
To address his concern about why anyone would want to make a sex tape and/or create nude photos and videos for their partners, my answer is simple: if both parties trust each other, why not?
There’s nothing scandalous about this; making a sex tape is perfectly normal behaviour for anyone sexually active. Granted, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but neither is it something to be frowned upon, especially in 2018.
When you are sleeping with someone, you would naturally be more adventurous about exploring your sexuality with each other—and one of these ways might include making a sex tape. If a sex tape is out of the question, then you would probably sext, be it with plain text, nude photos, or videos.
Even if you have never done or considered doing anything of the sort, most people can empathise with the curiosity of embarking on something deeply personal with your partner.
For instance, the act of filming yourself in the nude and sending the footage to a partner requires a whole other level of intimacy, respect, and trust than is required from merely having sex. Doing this might even help you realise how emotionally honest you can be with your partner.
There is also something personally emboldening about knowing you are confident enough to take nude photos and videos. It’s a fun way to explore your body and sexuality, simultaneously pushing new boundaries for yourself while satisfying each other.
As for the risk of having a sex tape stolen or leaked, well, no one can guarantee what happens in life, even in the most ‘risk-free’ situations.
That shouldn’t stop you from living anyway.
Speaking to a few female friends confirms my suspicions that making a sex tape and/or sending nudes are more common than we expect. Many find it no big deal at all, even those who appear most ‘unassuming’, and are more than willing to talk about their experiences.
29-year-old Sophia has made a sex tape and sent nudes mainly because it’s fun and she trusts her partner. These are probably the most common reasons women, including myself, do it.
“For me, I would only sleep with someone I trust. So when we decided to make a sex tape, I trusted that the other party would not use it against me,” she says.
Then there is Joyce, 28, who has never made a sex tape, but sends nudes because of how good it makes her feel. For instance, she used them to relieve the physical distance in her former long distance relationships. With current friends-with-benefits, sending nudes gives her an ego boost.
“It’s validating when I can arouse the other person without my physical presence. I also sext if I’m in the mood and not able to see him, so both parties can get each other off via sexting,” she shares.
“That said, even with sexting, I never show my full face in pictures.”
Joyce’s precaution is something many women take too. They put in safety measures, just in case anything happens to their photos and videos.
If anything, perhaps these ‘restrictions’ make it feel more rewarding when a nude has been successfully sent.
Chloe, 24, says, “My ex and I were exploring each other’s bodies and building trust at the start of our relationship, so I thought sexting would help us get closer faster. Even though my pictures weren’t fully nude and no face was shown, sexting opened my eyes to how my body really looked. I’ve seen my legs, arms, and stomach a lot, but I’ve never had much reason to pay attention to or photograph my private parts.”
Finally, 27-year-old Phoebe shares that she made a sex tape when she was “young and reckless”, although her partner deleted it soon after.
She adds, “I feel sorry for those whose tapes got leaked, but I don’t feel ashamed for them. Instead, I call out double standards on people who lust for their tapes yet judge them for having filmed it.”
In a modern and progressive society, equality should begin in the bedroom. While men desire and celebrate the pleasure they get from women’s bodies, they still try to control what women do with those same bodies—then shame them when they don’t obey.
On one hand, we claim to admire women who are empowered and own their sexuality. These women, we say, are badass and role models. Yet we also want their embodiment of self-empowerment and confidence to align with society’s idea of the culturally ideal woman: someone who is demure, well-behaved, and “decent”.
How dare they sleep with someone and decide to film it at the same time.
With multiple conflicting messages about how women are supposed to behave, women’s bodies essentially ‘belong’ to everyone else but themselves. For women, sex might be personal, but it is never entirely their own.
This is precisely why many people believe they had every right to look at Tammy NYP’s sex tape 12 years ago, and the influencer sex tapes now. They claim that since the tapes are on ‘public domain’, they stop being private property anymore, as if that were an acceptable reason to look at a woman’s naked body that was only meant for her partner’s eyes.
The truth is, not all violence is obvious. Sure, you may not have originally leaked the tapes or hacked into the owner’s phone. But if you watch the tapes without the women’s consent, if you disseminate links to the tapes, and if you remain silent while your friends joke about the situation or shame these women, then you are taking part in their abuse.
If we are truly committed to treating women better, we shouldn’t just refrain from condemning those involved.
We must not watch their tapes too.
The unfortunate consequence of having one’s personal life cruelly pried apart is that these influencers, and their tapes, now represent a broader cultural conversation, whether they like it or not.
As a result of the reactions to the sex tapes, other women are reminded that having sex, talking about sex, and enjoying sex is something they should be ashamed of. One of the women we reached out to threatened legal action against us, when she could have declined to comment.
If we think about it, it’s really not about the nudes. Had the sex tapes been consensually released, they wouldn’t have made an equally sensational impact.
Ultimately, the sex tape saga exists because society thrives on seeing women humiliated.
It doesn’t help that these women are influencers, the scum of society, according to many. Our influencer bashing has reached a point where we celebrate everytime one of them gets into deep shit. Having their sex tapes released without their consent just feels like icing on the cake.
At its core, this humiliation reveals a deep-rooted misogyny, the same kind that asks why a girl would go over to her rapist’s house and questions what a girl was wearing when she gets sexually harassed.
All this is because we are terrified that women feel bold enough to embrace and explore their sexuality. We are uncomfortable that women find it completely normal to film a sex tape and/or send nudes. And we still hate it when women behave in ways that men would otherwise be celebrated for.
The thing is, most of us are comfortable with the status quo. Sex, shame, and schadenfreude are inseparable bedfellows in Singapore. No matter the progressive conversations we have about fighting our culture of shame, every time a ‘scandal’ erupts, we regress back to square one.
To progress as a society, we should start getting comfortable with discomfort. This involves questioning why we defend some women and criticise others, and scrutinising our own perspectives and behaviour regarding this latest sex tape incident.
Our reaction to any sex tape leak says more about our attitudes towards sex than about the women involved. If we think they deserved it for not being ‘careful’ enough and for being ‘sluts’, we only reveal our own close-mindedness and our hypocrisy.
They made a sex tape. So what?