There are few technical advances that have changed sex quite so much as the smartphone. The combination of texting and discreet, immediately available photos has opened up a whole new world of sexual connectivity. But every step forward into future comes with its pitfalls—and as sex becomes increasingly digital, there's a whole new etiquette to get yourself acquainted with.
I sat down with Tina Horn, the author of Sexting: The Grownup's Little Book of Sex Tips for Getting Dirty Digitally, to get some tips on how to navigate this brave new world of digital intimacy. According to Horn, who cites Douglas Rushkoff's Program or Be Programmed as an inspiration, there are a couple of ways to make sure you're sexting without treating your partner like an emotionless fuckbot—or getting treated that way yourself.
Be clear about what you're looking for—and make sure you and your partner(s) are on the same page. Horn divides sexting into two basic types: the kind that's intended as foreplay, getting you and your partner hot and bothered in the lead up to IRL sex, and the kind that's intended as the main course in and of itself. There's nothing wrong with either of these sexting modes—they're both pretty great, actually—but if you're expecting a charged exchange to lead to some offline fucking while your partner just wants to get off to your words alone, you might end up feeling a bit used (or left high and dry) when all is texted and done.
So how to avoid coming off as a sexting tease, or disappointing someone expecting all those hot and heavy text fantasies to actually come true? Horn recommends being upfront about your expectations, and making sure your partner's just as clear about theirs. Unlike in-person sex, there's no body language to guide us through the subtleties of sexting. So make sure you're using your words for more than just total filth.
"You gotta respect me if you want me in your Rolodex"
Set—and respect—the boundary between sexting time and texting time. Countless think pieces have been written about the ways that smartphones have eroded the boundary between our home lives and our personal lives by making us always available. Less discussed is the way they've eroded the boundary between our sex lives and our, uh, not sex lives. When a digital fuck session is just a text message away, it can be easy to forget that the object of our sexting affection might not be ready to go 24/7.
But even if you, personally, are always DTDF, that doesn't mean your partner won't be at work, out with friends, or just not in the mood. Horn recommends testing the waters with some agreed upon language before launching into full on dirty talk.
Instead of kicking things off with, say, an up close picture of your bedildoed puss, consider opening with some suggestive dialogue like "What are you wearing?", your favorite naughty emoji, or even a sexy—but innocuous—pet name that'll let your partner know exactly where your head is at (bonus points for coming up with a secret code like "What color is the traffic light?"—everyone loves a sexy spy).
There's a double benefit to this strategy: not only will you avoid the potential embarrassment of texting a photo of a gaping asshole right as your partner's showing their grandma pictures of their vacation, you'll also protect your ego from statements like, "Sorry, I'm not in the mood." (Whether showing grandma a gaping asshole is more or less embarrassing than a mild bruise to your self confidence is something you'll have to decide for yourself.)
And speaking of protecting your ego: it's good to remember that if you're starting up a sext while your partner's out and about, or at work at the office, you can't expect 100 percent of their attention and focus. As Horn puts it, "You kind of have to be a little bit of a time traveler and have a conversation going on that you're able to freeze and return to, and not get freaked out and resentful when someone's not as engaged as they could be."
Remember that your digital dalliance involves an actual human being. "Sexting is emotional labor," says Horn, and though the distance and digital mediation can make it easy to forget that you're interacting with an actual person, it's important to respect the effort and emotion they're putting into getting you off. You wouldn't bail on a sex partner without making sure they'd gotten their needs met. The same rules apply to sexting.
"You gotta respect me if you want me in your Rolodex," says Horn. That respect means making sure whoever you're sexting feels appreciated, sexy, and fulfilled. There may be a day when we're all getting our needs met by super intelligent, emotionless operating systems—but until we reach that point, it's important to show some consideration to whoever's fueling your erotic imagination.
Sexting might be one of the safest forms of sex, at least when it comes to pregnancy and STIs, but the emotional stakes can still be high. Even if you've abandoned the face to face portion of the sex act, there's still a need for mutual respect, basic human decency, and general kindness towards our sexting partners.
Double check your privacy settings. As a final bit of advice, Horn offers a technical recommendation: if you're going to be sexting, make sure your phone is set to screen your texts—and think before you let a friend casually scroll through your photos or phone.
"I think of my phone as a very private porn machine that other people are not allowed to go into, that I just happen to carry around with me everywhere," says Horn. It's a brave new world of sexting: make sure you're navigating it safely, securely, and with some consideration for your partner's privacy.