Sexting is the spicy love letter of our digital age, the mobile booty call.
Tinder and anonymous midnight trysts or with our partners during lunch hour, we have unprecedented promise of passion–access to seduction and allure is at an all time high.
Defined as sending and/or receiving sexually explicit photos and/or text messages via an electronic device (usually a smartphone), ‘sexting’ is much more common than we think.
A new study looked at the connection between sexting, relationship and sexual satisfaction. They studied 870 people, ages 18 to 82, 58% women and 26% single.
Eighty two percent said they had sexted in the past year. Seventy five percent sexted as part of a committed relationship and 43% in a casual one.
People who sext more, report higher sexual satisfaction.
A Homework Assignment
Though this study focused on sexting in healthy sexual relationships, in working with couples, I find that sexting can be a cause of better sexual connection. With couples who have sexual difficulties or who struggle with showing physical affection, I assign sexting as ‘homework,” helping them to let loose and play with each other, talk ‘dirty’ with each other . . . leave each other voice mails, talk on the phone, email—and sext!
Couples either love this and meet the assignment with gusto or they’re apprehensive and cautious about what’s alien. For these couples, I encourage them to be curious about the experience and we begin their ‘assignment’ in the session.
I ask them each to take out their phones and text each other something relatively benign, e.g. “I love your mouth.” Or slightly edgy, “I love your tongue.” Or slightly naughty, e.g. “I love what your tongue could do to me.”
What is spicy for one couple will not be for another and every couple has a different baseline. To minimize threat and without avoiding their fear, I begin where they feel comfortable, skirting risk—this is the ‘safe zone,’ and sweet spot. What makes it “sweet?” It’s where healing happens!
Sexting may include ‘selfies,’ displaying either nudity and self-pornification or faces. ‘Selfie sexts,’ are a gazing game–participants are both the subject taking the photo and observed object. I find this practice especially fascinating because the presentation of yourself is based on empathy for your partner: you put yourself in the place of the other, introducing your preferences, expectations and evaluations.
I see it as an awesome opportunity for you both to learn about and understand each other more deeply.
Why do we feel excited while sexting? Why the adrenaline rush? We generate a brainwave biorhythm unique to texting activity and not to voice calls, body movements, nor cognition-based activities. This new waveform is highly specific to active texting; it’s a generalized fronto-central monomorphic burst of 5 to 6 Hz theta wave.
The cool aspect about this is it seems to be evoked consistently by texting on a smartphone and is “intrinsically locked to an electronic stimulus.” The study was a small sample size, didn’t control for drugs or caffeine, needs to be replicated . . . but the possibility that our brain adapts to technology is an exciting evolutionary discovery, and yet another way for couples to connect.
Benefits of Sexting
- It offers more safety than in person interactions and gives permission to go beyond boundaries, volleying sensual, erotic exchange.
- It improves erotic communication and intimacy, which leaks into in-person engagement, e.g. voicing desires and energy during sex.
- It helps people learn and practice socially proactive behaviors, e.g. flirting—remote sexual flirting can be safer than person to person encounters.
- It allows individuals to access their your inner sense of desirability and sexiness, which they normally might be afraid to let out.
- Related to #4, sexting is a channel through which to learn your own sensual needs, and be comfortable with them, to develop confidence in your desires.
- It lessens guilt, e.g. religious judgments about sexual activity.
- Instead of using alcohol or drugs as social lubricants to ease nervousness, sexting can lower inhibitions and promotes openness, serving as a bridge to in-person flirting.
- If you’re single and not wanting commitment, but seeking a sexual connection, and unable to initiate, sexting serves as a social bridge.
- For those in a committed relationship, sexting is a way to ignite sparks and/or stoke the fire already there.
For many adolescents not ready for physical contact, sexting is the new ‘first base.’ Studies indicate it does not lead to risky sexual behavior, and is an appropriate teenage segue into the next phase of a romantic relationship—for teens on the verge of, it’s safe sex: no penetration, no risking pregnancy.
I’m referring here to sexting with text only—no photo. In the U.S., it is illegal to create, possess or distribute a sexual image of a minor. “Sexual image” is now defined to include clothed images a jury decides has sexual intent.
When minors take and send naked selfies to each other, they are creating child pornography, a felony.
In 40 states, the age of consent is 16 or 17, but the age that determines “child pornography” is 18. It can be legal for two 17-year-olds to have sexual intercourse, but be jailed for creating a photo of that sex—even if they only share the photo with each other.
Some caveats: Prioritize privacy and don’t send public sexts. Share only with each other (unless mutually agreed that it will be a group message), and only with mutual consent.
It is inevitable that text morph into digital sex between partners—sexting is here to stay and good for us.
Lasen, A. (2015). But I haven’t Got A Body To Show: Self-Pornification And Male Mixed Feelings In Digitally Mediated Seduction Practices. Sexualities. September vol. 18 no. 5-6 714-730.
Stasko, E.C. & Geller, P.A., (2015). Reframing Sexting As a Positive Relationship Behavior. Paper presented at the 123rd annual convention of the American Psychological Association, Ontario, Canada.
Tatum, W. (2015). “A New Waveform Identified During Video EEG Monitoring.” American Epilepsy Society; Abstract 3; 114.
Temple, J.R., & Choi, HJ.(2014). Longitudinal Association Between Teen Sexting and Sexual Behavior. Pediatrics, October 6, DOI:10.1542/peds.2014-1974.
Temple, J. R., Paul, J. A., van den Berg, P., Le, V. D., McElhany, A., & Temple, B. W. (2012). Teen sexting and its association with sexual behaviors. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 166(9), 828–833. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.
This is not a substitute for medical advice, nor is it meant as professional consultation with a mental health professional. If you have relationship and/or sexual difficulties, please seek appropriate help.