Thirst traps — or sexy photos posted online to attract attention — are a significant part of online culture. None of us are above this behavior, and we’ve all done it at least once. I’ve done it a little more than that. 

When I came out as bisexual a few years ago, I felt pretty isolated. I didn’t live in a queer-friendly city, so I took to thirst-trapping on Instagram and Twitter to express (and feel) myself. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive — a welcome light in what was a dark time. 

Now that I’m in a relationship, I don’t post as much. My partner doesn’t care if I do — and the very fact that I mentioned the topic to them before I posted anything, I found, is something that differentiates me from other thirst-trappers. Most have never felt the need to address their online behavior with their partners, believing they should have complete autonomy to post whatever they want.

The Case For

“One of the things that bothered me most about monogamous relationships, when I was still in them, was the expectation that just showing your body online was considered cheating,” Kate, 27, says. “I think you can agree on whatever boundaries make sense for you and your relationship, but that particular boundary made me deeply uncomfortable.”

Kate estimates she posts five to 10 thirst traps a month, mostly on Instagram and Twitter. “I used to post full-on nudes when I was younger, but now I’m less interested in doing that,” she says. Now, she opts for lingerie, fetishwear, and lots of cleavage.

“You shouldn’t feel guilt for things you enjoy,” Nick, 29, agrees. “What I post online doesn’t have anything to do with my partner, and he doesn’t have any say in what I do or do not post.”

Nick, who’s been in a nonmonogamous relationship for eight years, posts roughly two thirst traps a week on Instagram and Twitter. As a self-professed “bigger guy,” Nick receives messages from other large-bodied men telling him that his pictures make them feel more confident and sexy. “I’m not going to be some altruistic asshole and say that’s why I post all of my thotty pics,” he says. “But it’s a big reason why I think thirst traps are important, especially for people who don’t have traditionally attractive bodies.”

“Everything I post is essentially a thirst trap, even if I’m fully clothed,” Magdalene, 23, who met her partner through one of her posts, says. “I do occasionally post a bikini picture, and there are photos on my Instagram that are basically just my ass.” She claims photos lacking thirst don’t perform as well and she covets the incessant chiming of Instagram notifications. “I think everyone has a right to feel good about themselves, and thirst-trapping is often a harmless ego-boost.”

All three individuals say their partners support this behavior — in fact, they encourage it. “I think they can see that posting cute pictures of myself boosts my confidence, and I’m not always the most confident person,” Kate says of her partner of two years, Matt.

As a sex blogger, podcaster, and author of the forthcoming novel “101 Kinky Things That Even You Can Do,” Kate also considers thirst-trapping a political act. “The stigmatization of ‘attention-seeking’ behavior is harmful and too often aimed at women and queer people because, in a heteropatriarchal world, those groups are supposed to stay quiet and take up as little space as possible. I refuse to do that.”

The Case Against

Others don’t see it that way. A study published in the journal Telematics and Informatics found that indulgent selfie-taking can create conflict between partners due to jealousy.

“I wouldn’t date anyone who posts [thirst traps],” Jordan, 28, says. “It’s kind of immature behavior, and I like grown men.” 

Dabney, 29 agrees. “I think it’s just inviting trouble, and in that regard it’s disrespectful.” In an informal poll inquiring about the behavior, nearly a third of 200 voters believed thirst-trapping was disrespectful. 

It’s Not So Black And White

Therapist Daniel Olavarria, LCSW, thinks posting a thirst trap while you are in a relationship is not, in and of itself, deceitful. “Whether you should ask your partner(s) before posting one is more of a question about communication, expectations, values, and the culture that has been established within your relationship,”  he says. 

Early in the relationship, Olavarra recommends exploring the other person’s values and gauging how they fit with your needs. “If your partner feels that modesty and privacy are important, you get to determine for yourself how that fits with the way that you approach the world,” he says. “Honestly and respectfully sharing your reactions to the idea of a thirst trap, without demands, can be a productive way to gain new insights into your relationship.” 

People’s opinions on the matter of thirst traps are unpredictable and sporadic, but you’ll only know them — or have any hope of reaching a compromise — if you talk about the subject. If your partner isn’t on board, ask them which photos make them uncomfortable and which aspect of thirst-trapping makes them uneasy, then take things from there. In some cases, thirst-trapping isn’t the problem — the reason why you post thirst traps may be causing the disconnect. And as evidenced by thirst trappers’ testimonies, our motives aren’t insidious in the slightest. For most of us, it’s a form of self-expression, and the feedback serves as a serious confidence boost. Who wouldn’t want that for the person they love?