This article originally appeared on VICE Italy.
Sexting has never been more vital than it is today. As we brace ourselves for a socially-distanced winter, many lonely hearts are looking to up their sext game as a way to cope with the pit of horny desperation that is 2020. But it’s a known fact that sexting can also go terribly wrong, and even if you do it in good faith, you might have totally misread a situation.
The idea that men send unwanted dick pics to anyone with an Instagram DM folder, and women only send nudes while in intimate relationships, is a cliché: a 2018 meta-analysis of 39 studies suggests there's no significant difference in the amount of sexy texts men and women send. Clearly, the dick pic just needs to clean up its reputation. I asked a few sexting experts if and how you can send one respectfully.
The first rule of sexting (and sex generally) is you need to leave your ego behind. Before going all in, consider what the receiver actually likes, and whether what you’re sending is actually going to be pleasurable for them to receive. This might seem obvious, but as countless receivers of unsolicited dick pics can confirm, it does bear repeating.
Sexting can be divided into two main phases: the teasing and the actual sexting. Teasing involves sending a couple of cheeky – but not explicit – texts to see if your partner is in the mood. This is a crucial step to test the waters. If you don't receive an enthusiastic sign of consent, don't continue with the more intense stuff, be it images or explicit descriptions of sex. You obviously can't expect the other person to be fully available just because you’re horny.
“There’s no such a thing as an implicit invite [to sext],” said Emanuel Amabilis, who works in a queer bar and often discusses gay sex on Instagram with his followers. “If you see I’m not replying to your pictures or requests, don’t insist. Let’s get to it again when the moment is right.”
Playboy and GQ sex columnist Carlotta Vagnoli agreed: “If you start off with a super intense sexual fantasy, my first reaction will be taking a step back. You’ve got to turn me on first.” When in doubt, she thinks it’s a good idea for hetero men to let their partner take the initiative. “You’ll give her a chance to feel comfortable and trust you,” she said.
Eleonora Strozzi, who co-owns the popular Wovo sex shop in Milan, says she always includes a disclaimer when sexting. “I’ve been seeing this guy, we often exchange photos throughout the day,” she said. “We got into the habit of writing 'NSFW' so we can open texts on our own terms whenever we feel like it.” Her business partner Frida Affer enjoys creating a whole narrative when sexting, including lots of detail. “It gives me the idea that the other person is taking their time to enjoy it with me, just like in real life,” she explained.
But that doesn’t work for everyone. “I think gay partners are more direct,” said Emanuel. “I would get bored if we took it too slow.” According to sexologist Daniel Giunti, president of the sexology centre Il Ponte in Florence, that’s because male sexuality generally is more visual and direct.
“Men send dick pics for two reasons: to get their partner to reciprocate and for validation,” he explained. But this belief about male sexuality, long-held by the scientific community, was questioned by a 2018 meta-analysis that found male and female brains actually don't react very differently to visual sexual stimuli. Researchers now think previous results might have been skewed by social stigma.
So it's definitely possible your girl will enjoy a dick pic – just make it good. “There’s nothing worse than a rushed, half-assed picture with your balls all scrunched up inside your half-unbuttoned jeans,” Frida said. Eleonora thinks a good rule of thumb when it comes to dick pics is to avoid point-of-view shots, or those taken at junk-level. There's also no need to stop at pictures. “I often prefer when my partner sends me a video of him masturbating, especially when he’s about to cum,” Carlotta added.
The truth is, many people don’t get horny just from seeing a hard dick. Some of my female friends told me they find pictures of a bulge inside someone’s pants more enticing than a full-blown hard-on. “Men generally have a hard time valuing their body beyond their genitals,” professor Giunti explained. “They often ignore the fact that their partners would really appreciate receiving other kinds of images.”
So if you have a penis, consider zipping it up and getting creative. Highlight another body part you think a partner might find sexy: your legs, your back and bum, your hands or your chest. “What you can’t see can be really sexy, too,” said Frida. She suggested taking a video of yourself masturbating without showing your penis. “It’s often much more exciting than a random shitty photo.”
Finally, Eleonora and Frida also recommend sexting via voice notes – something they say guys rarely try. As demonstrated by the growth of the audio porn industry (especially among women), recordings can be hot. For inspiration, you can check out platforms like Quinn and Dipsea, where both amateurs and professionals upload audio erotica.
Awkward situations are bound to happen when you're revealing your desires and your genitals, and it can be harder to read someone's tone in a text. So: don't sext someone if you get a feeling it's not what they want, and apologise if there's been a misunderstanding. A simple recipe that could change the reputation of sexting for the better.