Sexting gets a bad rep. But we shouldn’t confuse the sins of an unsolicited dick pic with the gift of an enthusiastically consensual dick pic.

Getting horny with your partner over text isn’t just great foreplay. For many it can also act as an ideal space for establishing enthusiastic consent, exploring each other’s sexual fantasies, kinks, boundaries, and limitations.

In the age of #MeToo, we’re finally talking about how to change our sexual culture to ensure everyone’s having a great time during a sexual encounter. But often, dissenters frame consent like it’s a contract you have to sign before touching each other. (Those people clearly haven’t seen Fifty Shades of Grey, where the BDSM contract is hotter than the actual sex scenes.)

Far from a binding contract, enthusiastic consent is by definition exciting, sexy, flexible, and an act of discovery. But sometimes — especially in monogamous heteronormative relationships — it’s hard to know what it looks like IRL, or how to avoid the awkwardness of having those conversations in the heat of the moment.

“Sexting can be great for negotiation because you can talk about all of it without looking directly into their eyes. And for many people, that lessens the fear of rejection or feelings of shame,” said psychologist, author, teacher, and sex coach Liz Powell.

Swiping right, but in a sexual way.

Swiping right, but in a sexual way.

Image: vicky leta / mashable 

Aside from being a great avenue for enthusiastic consent, SMS thirstiness is already redefining the way we have sexual and intimate relationships. And studies have shown that it can be an essential part to a healthy relationship, including potentially increasing sexual satisfaction.

“Sexting is becoming normative,” said Jeff R. Temple, a behavioral researcher from University of Texas who studies the impact of things like sexting. According to his findings, “over half of emerging adults report sexting, and with the ubiquity of smartphones, that number is only going to increase.”

Let’s make sure sexting stays sexy, not creepy.

Whether or not we like it, sexting is here to stay. And like IRL sex, we need to start talking about ways to do it right, ensuring that we engage in this newer form of intimacy safely, consensually, and positively. Which is to say: Let’s make sure sexting stays sexy, not creepy.

So here’s your guide to having a healthy sexting relationship with your partner(s), as a form of sexual communication that’s still hot and heavy, but also chill and on your own time.

1. Establish rules of engagement

First to state the obvious: Absolutely never assume someone wants a sext from you, even if you’ve had sex before. And even if you’ve talked about sexting before, you need to lay down some ground rules for how you each like to sext. And this guide assumes the reader is of age, since there’s all sorts of legal and safety issues that come into play if you’re a minor.

Before diving head first into a full on sexting relationship, have an explicit and straightforward conversation.

“A lot of the time we wander into the first time we sext our partners …. One of you says, something like, ‘Oh I’m thinking about you’ or, ‘Remember how hot that kiss we had was?'” said Powell. “I suggest checking back in after that first time and saying, ‘What was great for you about that? What are things I can do more, or less next time?’ But also practical things like, “Hey in the future do we need to get explicit consent before? Can I send you sexts any time? Do you want pics?'” 

For example, some people like a surprise sext while others feel it’s a total violation. Being considerate is the most important part of this early negotiation process. 

“At the beginning, start by initiating late at night or at a time when you know the other person has some privacy,” Vanessa Marin, a psychotherapist who specializes in sex therapy, said.

If you’re worried about being caught while your screen sharing during a meeting, make sure you both turn off “Preview Messages” mode on your phone setting. 

No one wants to see their partner's genitals at the dinner table.

No one wants to see their partner’s genitals at the dinner table.

Image: vicky leta / mashable art team

Or try designating Snapchat or another app like Signal as your sexting platform, keeping things separate and so you know what the fuck is up without needing to open anything. It’s important to note that Snapchat does not guarantee your privacy, since pictures you send are stored by the company and are also vulnerable to workarounds so users can save your pictures. Signal has end-to-end encryption and disappearing messages, but someone can always take a screenshot or picture of your sext using another camera. 

Both Powell and Marin suggest pacing yourself at the start of any sexting relationship, regardless of how long you’ve been together or how far you’ve gone sexually IRL.

“You don’t want to get carried away because it’s easy to put the other person in an uncomfortable situation before you know how they like it,” said Marin.

That’s not to mention that ramping things up slowly is a totally great tease. If you go too fast, like jumping from super explicit texts right into nudes, you don’t leave enough room for anticipation.

Give each other time to develop a natural sexting cadence. This is about enjoying the (at times agonizingly teasing) journey, rather than racing to the finish line.

2. Initiate by first calling back to a moment of real-life intimacy

There’s one pretty sure-fire way to test the waters with a potential sexting partner.

“If you and your partner have already been intimate in real life, ease in by talking about what a great time you had or why you can’t stop thinking about it,” said Marin. “You’re introducing the topic without being too explicit. It gives your partner the opportunity to respond in a way where you can gauge whether they want to go into more detail or not.”

Also, Marin pointed out, “because you’re referencing something you already know the person was into, there’s a higher chance they won’t be uncomfortable by reliving it through sexting.”

3. Learn more about your own sexuality, body, and desires first

Maybe all this still sounds too fast for you, especially if you’ve never sexted before. That’s why an essential part to developing your sexting skills is understanding your own sexuality on a solo basis.

Checking in with yourself is in important step.

Checking in with yourself is in important step.

Image: Vicky Leta / Mashable

In Powell’s experience, that’s especially the case for people who were socialized as women, or who are trans, queer, or non-binary.

“Cis-gendered men get a lot of encouragement to explore their own bodies, sexualities, a variety of different types of porn,” she said. Even then, though, they’re still taught to not explore the less traditionally masculine forms of pleasure, like anal or pegging.

“But people who are socialized as women don’t get any of those lessons. We are the sexual objects, not the sexual subjects … You’re given the message that your partner will explore sex for you, so you don’t need to take the time to explore your own pleasure,” she said.

“For people who are trans or nonbinary or when you’re in a body that doesn’t always necessarily match your understanding of your own gender, it can be really complicated to know what embodied pleasure looks like for you.”

That’s why both Powell and Marin believe that everyone — regardless of gender — can up their sexting game by venturing into new forms of self love before bringing a partner into the mix.

“Finding ways to tap into what turns you on when you’re alone is essential to connecting with other people,” said Powell.

4. Develop your own sexual vocabulary (together)

The most common fears Powell and Marin hear about sexting is how people don’t know what to say. They both have handouts for clients with common phrases, words, verbs, and strategies.

“We don’t have a lot of rich sexual language modeled for us in our culture. So having a bank of words that you can pull from so that it’s more like mad libs and less like creative prose can be a lot easier, especially if you’re starting out,” said Powell.

But ideally, you’d find your own sexting voice. Which is where those lessons in self-exploration come in. Read erotica to see what resonates with you and put those sentiments into your own words to develop your own “cheat sheet,” Powell said. You may want to start with Literotica, a free online anthology of textual porn, Marin suggested. Or if you want to peruse more curated and better-written examples, Refinery29 does a weekly erotica roundup.

“Practice your own erotic writing without sending it to your partner so you can figure out what turns you on, what doesn’t,” Marin added.

This practice goes hand-in-hand with the next step, which is creating a sexicon (a lexicon of your own vocabulary, phrases, nicknames, situations, etc.) with your partner. Talk about what kind of nicknames they like (if any) and how you both like to refer to your body parts.

You also need to make peace with the idea that not everything will click. You might say some awkward things that won’t land. That’s all a normal part of sex, and can be a fun bonding experience for figuring out your sexy repertoire.

“Sexting and dirty talk is the most awkward when we’re in a really anxious mental space or trying to phrase it perfectly. We become disconnected from the actual sexual experience we’re trying to communicate,” said Powell.

5. Practicing on your own makes perfect

But what about pictures and videos? That’s a whole other frontier that you can also ease into without your partner at first.

“Taking pictures of yourself can feel really empowering,” said Marin. Getting to know what angles work best for you, what assets you want to emphasize, or how much you’re comfortable showing takes practice. And it’s all about enjoying and discovering what you love about your body.

“So feel free to do that whether or not you plan on sending it to someone else.”

The group chat gets it

The group chat gets it

Image: vicky leta / mashable

Powell suggests you take a whole bunch of pictures too since, “You’re gonna hate three-quarters of the ones you take at first …. Learn to be OK with a bunch of terrible pictures of yourself too.” 

Practice is not only part of the process, but can also be part of the fun. Powell has even seen a recent trend of friends getting involved in helping to up each other’s nude game.

“Set up a supportive sexy selfies group with your friends to talk about how hot each of you is, how you love that angle, or that color on them. Whatever it is, find ways to build each other up,” she said. “It’s a great way to get started that’s low pressure.”

6. Let’s get personal

Bringing it back to your partner, sexting gets really hot when you personally tailor it to that specific lover.

“So many of us have an idea of what sexy is supposed to look like and how we’re supposed to behave to be sexy. But it’s way more about your own unique, individual personality,” said Marin.

Who you are is a huge part of what makes your partner want you. So play into that, not only through the sexual vocabulary you develop with each other but also in your pictures, videos, or even voice memos.

Who you are is a huge part of what makes your partner want you. 

Don’t try to emulate glossy pin up shots from the early days of adult magazines because, honestly, that’s not what our culture even finds sexy anymore. When Playboy relaunched its first non-nude magazine issue in 2016, there’s a reason why the cover invoked the casual sext aesthetic of Snapchat. Your partner wants to see you as you are, not as an impossible ideal.

“If you’re someone who’s kind of dorky, for example, that’s also going to be sexy as long as you embrace it and embody it,” said Powell.

Aside from bringing your own personality, it’s incredibly sexy to tailor your sexts to the specific person your texting.

“Make it super personal to every lover. What are the aspects of their particular body that you love? Is there a specific birth mark, or dimple, or way that they laugh? What are the things that are really unique about that person?” said Powell.

In the case of a sexy Snapchat, don’t forget that you can combine visuals and text. And there is something indescribably hot about a nude alongside a message naming your partner and what you want them to do with it. Marin suggested sending videos or pictures where you’re even wearing an outfit or piece of underwear you know the other person likes.

People love to be seen, and sexting can be a great way of helping someone else see their own sexiness through your eyes.

“In particular it’s great to highlight aspects of that person that you love that they may feel uncomfortable about,” Powell said, pointing to common insecurities like belly fat, stretch marks, or scars. Describing how their perceived flaws are sexy to you will make anyone get hot and bothered. 

7. Negotiating boundaries can be hot as hell

So far we’ve been assuming that you and your sexting partner are on the same page. But that’s definitely not always the case. But far from being a problem, those instances can become opportunities to get to know each other’s sexuality better.

This is especially true when you’re using sexting to explore new territory, like kinks or desires you haven’t tried before — even when it’s something the other partner doesn’t initially find appealing.

“When someone brings up something you think isn’t your thing, the first question that can be useful to ask is, ‘Tell me what’s hot about that for you,'” said Powell. 

That question should open up an honest, judgement-free dialogue for you both about the larger source, sensation, or sexual fantasy that the kink or sexual act represents. Because, “the specific act is never the full story behind what they’re actually into. Figuring out what’s driving that desire helps you renegotiate.”

“The first question that can be useful to ask is, ‘Tell me what’s hot about that for you.'”

You might even find that, after hearing your partner describe what’s hot to them about it, their sheer excitement or desire stirs some of your own. But if you’re still not into doing that specific act or kink, you can find other acts you are comfortable that fulfill their larger desire.

“It’s about treating it like a collaborative activity. Think about it like improv, where it’s always ‘Yes, and.’ That doesn’t mean you always have to say yes to things, but the idea should be understanding where that person is coming from, and meeting them where you can,” said Powell.

But, Powell clarified: “Being able to give your lover an empowered ‘no’ in a way that doesn’t make them feel rejected is a super essential skill.”

And having that negotiation conversation, even if it goes nowhere, allows you both to exercise that skill.

What’s important for both parties, Marin said, is to remember, “You’re allowed to have your own boundaries, you’re allowed to have your own reactions, and share that feedback with your partner.”

8. Safety, trust, and privacy are part of what makes sexting sexy

Even though sexting has become a ubiquitous and often positive experience for many, there’s no denying the inherent risk.

Marin, Powell, and Temple emphasized that unfortunately, there is absolutely no way to ensure your sexts won’t be made public or used in ways you didn’t consent to. But there are helpful ways to frame that problem.

You can't guarantee a consensual sext will remain consensual.

You can’t guarantee a consensual sext will remain consensual.

Image: vicky leta / mashable 

“Because it’s the internet and because it’s the age that we live in, don’t ever send pics or videos that you would not be OK with ending up on the internet,” said Powell.

That’s not because it will or you can’t trust anyone. It’s more about considering whether or not that potential outcome would ruin your particular career, like for people who work with kids, for example.

“If you’re going to be sexting someone, just ask yourself, ‘What is the worst that can happen here,’ and set your engagement based on your risk profile. How much risk are you willing to assume?”

Some people avoid this in pictures by never showing their faces in a nude, making it harder to prove it’s you. But again, that’s still fallible. As mentioned, no app guarantees privacy. We wrote previously about some apps that can help protect your nudes, and would also recommend turning off automatic cloud back up.

But also, taking the leap of faith with your partner adds to what can make sexting feel special. It’s something you do with a person you trust, and trust is sexy.

“Sending a naked picture of yourself is scary and makes you vulnerable to the receiver,” said Temple, the behavioral researcher. “You’re trusting the other person to not violate that trust.”

9. Watch out for these bad, or even abusive behaviors

Sexting can be a huge rush of excitement, and it’s easy to get caught up and do something thoughtless. Everyone makes mistakes, especially if they haven’t had a lot of experience.

But there are a few behavioral patterns you can remain vigilant of, either to avoid doing any of them yourself or to not let them unwittingly happen to you.

Marin and Powell raised the issue of an uneven conversation, where one partner is always initiating and volunteering all the ideas during a sexting session. This can not only breed resentment on the part of the initiator, but also is an indication that the receiver might be uncomfortable. 

“Text is harder because you can’t see the other person’s facial expression, hear their tone, or read their body language. You don’t get any of that information,” said Marin. “If the person is not responding or fully engaged and you keep insisting, then something is wrong.”

Even if that person seems to be agreeing to your advances, not supplying their own sexting fodder should make you immediately stop and check in.

“It’s about the platinum rule, which is do unto others as they would have you do unto them.”

In his research, Temple found that the most common forms of straight up abusive sexting behavior includes sending explicit visuals and texts without asking first, or any form of pressure when sexts are sent — even with phrases they might’ve intended as an innocent tease like, “Now it’s your turn.”

Of course, forwarding or showing others an explicit picture you receive without the senders permission is absolutely unacceptable. And people should also be aware of sextortion, where a partner demands more pictures by using the previous ones as blackmail.

To avoid any inadvertent pressuring, Powell advocates for going a step above even the “Golden Rule.” It isn’t just doing unto others as you would have done unto you. With sexting, “it’s about the platinum rule, which is to do unto others as they would have you do unto them.”

10. Remember that digital consent and IRL consent still differ

This goes hand in hand with the idea that consenting to stuff during sexting absolutely does not translate to consenting to do it in real life. Part of the fun is creating a fantasy together, and people often don’t want to have what they fantasize about to happen to them IRL. 

“Sexting can sometimes trigger unwanted advances from the receiver. A sext might indicate that the person is ready to take it to the next level, but we shouldn’t ever assume,” said Temple. “Even if they sent you 500 pictures of their naked body they still might not want to have anything physical with you. The same courtship and consent rules still apply.”

Any form of IRL sexual exploration still requires an explicit, verbal, enthusiastic “yes” in order for consent to be established.

But sexting makes getting to a point where you’re both ready to give each other that enthusiastic “yes” a whole lot less intimating.

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