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When did sexting become a thing?
Officially, the word sexting (sex + texting) was actually added to the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary in 2012 however, it was first published years before then. In 2005, the word ‘sexting’ was published for the first time in the Australian Sunday Telegraph Magazine. The first text message was sent in 1992, and the first cell phone with a full keyboard came out in 1997. Though we don’t know exactly when the first sext was sent, or what it said, we can surmise that it was sometime in the 90s. Since then, it became common enough that in the few short years between hoarding supplies in preparation for Y2K and dealing with the devastation of hurricane Katrina, it was used casually in a news article.
More recently, apps that facilitate messaging via the internet have made sexting much more accessible than ever before. Between Kik, WhatsApp, and Snapchat, among other platforms, just about anyone can send whatever to anyone. Not legally, of course. In many places, people below the age of 18 cannot legally consent to sending or receiving sexually explicit photos. Other than that though, it’s as free as any other sexual activity.
How common is it really?
Very common! According to a study by the American Psychological Association in 2015, 88% of respondents reported ever having sexted, with 82% reporting that they had sexted that year. It happens in close, committed relationships as well as in more casual encounters, though much more likely in the former than the latter circumstance.
The Kinsey Institute also looked into the use of technology with sexual relationships in 2017. They included more people (though there were way more women respondents than men or non-binary/genderqueer respondents) and sampled from all over the world, and still they reported that 67% of all respondents reported sexting. Even in South Korea, the country least likely to sext, sexting was still reported among 30% of respondents.
Why would anyone want to sext?
Well, for one thing, more sexting is associated with greater levels of sexual satisfaction, especially for those of us in relationships. Physiologically, arousal starts in the brain and sending and receiving sexts releases neurotransmitters associated with pleasure such as dopamine. For women, the attachment hormone, oxytocin, is also released which promotes a sense of closeness. For men, hormones such as vasopressin are released, intensifying their sexual pleasure.
These pleasure centers are also at play in addictions and like addictions, sexting often leads to more sexting because it feels good.
But the part that I, personally have been really excited about, is the enhancement of my sex life.
Oh yeah, grrrl? Tell me more…
When I met one of my closest connections, I was so excited to meet him. Within a week we were teenagers in the throws of our first real love. But he was leaving the country, possibly never to be seen again. Our only way to maintain our relationship was through the internet, and given our busy schedules and time difference, our relationship was largely text-based. Two years later, we still text most days and sexting keeps our relationship fresh and exciting. With both of us in multiple intimate relationships, and living across the world from one another, unable to touch each other ever, at all — text is often all we get.
One thing that I noticed about our text-based relationship was how pressure-free I felt. He wasn’t getting sex in person with me, but he was getting it sometimes with his primary partner and other times with a FWB ( Friends With Benefits ) relationship. I also had the same freedom. I never had to worry about being seen when I didn’t want to be seen or touched when I didn’t want to be touched. I didn’t have to worry about my anxiety betraying me by shaking my voice or my hands. If he reacted poorly to anything I texted him, he never showed it to me. His responses were always carefully considered, accepting and supportive. Text-based communication can help facilitate that sort of reaction because you can take the time to send the response that you want to send, regardless of your initial reactions.
As has been revealed empirically in a psychological study from 2014, text-based communication improves self-esteem more than face-to-face or cell phone voice communication. This is because we can hide in the safety of text-based communication and from that safe place, we can reveal the more sensitive parts of ourselves. The more we reveal, if received in a supportive way, the more benefits we experience to our self-esteem. And when we feel good about ourselves, we want to get sexy to celebrate.
What counts as sexting?
A lot, really. Sexually explicit or suggestive text-based communication (Facebook, Texting, WhatsApp, Email etc.), photos or videos. They all have their own pros and cons.
Texting has the least richness of the communication types because you don’t get tone of voice or body language with it, yet this can be an advantage. It’s like a choose-your-own romance novel where you can read the text and imagine the scene however you like. Then you can add to it or change the direction. You’re given minimal suggestion and your imagination fills in the rest with whatever is going to work the best for you to turn you on. With a partner you know, you can draw on your experiences to create a more convincing fantasy.
You can add emojis for a fun, playful and flirty feel or to send a message without vocalizing it. Gifs also add some emphasis by expressing moods and reactions portrayed by someone else more masterfully than you might. Usually, gifs are taken from movies and tv and portrayed by actual actors who express things for a living so you don’t have to worry about your expression sending the wrong message accidentally.
Selfies are great. They allow us to take control of how we are viewed, objectified and sexualized. We can create an image that shows us at our best, or most vulnerable or whatever it is that you’re trying to communicate. Take as many selfies as you want and choose the one you feel most confident with showing. It’s a reminder that you exist in the real world and that you are giving your attention to the intended receiver(s) specifically. You also get to control how much you reveal or cover to get your lover’s attention. You can really tap into your exhibitionism, and/or your partner’s voyeurism.
Video messages can be either recorded and sent off or live-streamed with or without your partner streaming to you as well. This is the richest form of communication you can get at a distance but it’s also the least fantasy-enabling. It can also be frustrating if you experience latency or delay issues, but it can really enhance your relationship intimacy because it is the most vulnerable.
Sexting for kinks
I found that exploring kinks via text was so much easier and way more fun than exploring in person. In my past relationships, we would each be trying to stumble on each other’s turn-ons without turning each other off in the process or causing doubt in our relationships. We were scared and it showed. That lead to us creating really not-so-enticing exchanges and losing what could be sexy about any new kink to inexperience and anxiety. Often, we would try something once and then never again.
With sexting, there’s usually a certain amount of plausible deniability because there’s no tone of voice and no body language. Throw out an idea or suggest a kink that’s received poorly and you can always play it off as a joke. The more ideas you put out there, the less attached you become to each try having a good outcome. You can get to a place in your relationship where you just try kinks on for size in your imagination and you never have to do it in person if you decide it’s not for you, or not worth doing in person.
One of the best advantages to sexting is that you can do it just about anywhere and can often multitask while you’re doing it. Need to do laundry? Shopping? Making breakfast? You don’t have to give it all of your attention, but you can usually give it some of your attention. It can be every bit as thrilling receiving a sext in public as actually meeting for sex in a public place. You can even play out your fantasies of public sex virtually, thus satisfying your desire without the risk of actually doing it.
Obviously, there are some contexts wherein sexting your lover is inappropriate, rude or disturbing, but use your judgment. So long as no one is negatively impacted by your dirty secret sexts, have fun!
Abuse and misuse of technology
My rule of thumb tends to be that you can do whatever you want so long as no one is hurt and consent is freely given. There are plenty of examples in the media about when sexting goes wrong. You know these stories and it is already overrepresented in the media so I’m not going to go deep into it, but I did want to touch on this topic. Check in with yourself and make sure that YOU are not contributing to these types of problems. How well do you know the person you’re sexting with? Are there any power imbalances in your relationship? Is consent really and truly being given, or have you unintentionally coerced your partner in revealing more than they want?
Often when one partner has more power in a relationship, it can be difficult to realize for the person with more power. To them, asking for a nude shot or video is merely advocating for their wants and desires, which is great! But to their partner, it may be difficult to say no and these asks can turn into unintended coercion. Ask yourself if you communicate or behave in a way that allows your partner to say no without fear of rejection or hurt. With great power comes great responsibility. When you own your own power, regardless of the source of that power, it is even more essential that you check in with yourself to make sure that you can hear no and accept it. And to check in with your partners to make sure that your partners don’t fear repercussions if they tell you no.
I’m scared. How do I keep myself safe?
If you want to sext with your partner but have your reasons for being cautious, here are some tried and true ways to minimize damage. Be choosey about content. A commonly given-out tip is to keep your face or identifiable features, like unique tattoos, out of the shot or tastefully obscured. If the image gets into the wrong hands, all they’ll see is some stranger’s body. It’s better to take a less explicit photo than to blur out details since some software can unblur images.
Try to stay sober. Feeling uninhibited can be great to help you get in the mood, but it can also impair your judgment so that risks seem less risky. Be aware that your sober self is better equipped to assess situations. If you’re really uncertain about it, a sober mind can help keep you safe.
Do you want to keep these sexts? If not, delete them! If you do, look into ways of storing them that may be more secure than your phone. Check out this article for a more in-depth guide!
Using sexting for good
Sexting can be really fun and is a unique way of exploring your sex life. It can help you and your partner bond, boost your self-esteem and create a rich fantasy world. Be creative, have fun and try your best not to misuse any sensitive sexts you have. It can be really hard to take the plunge, so recognize the courage it takes to engage with sexting and celebrate it. Only take the risks you are comfortable with taking, and never coerce or force anyone to partake. It can be a scary world out there, but we’re the ones creating it so please, use your sexts for good.