How to Sext Like An Adult

Let’s talk about sexts, baby

A real text I sent as a freshman in college. Don't do this.
A real text I sent as a freshman in college. Don't do this.
Kayla Kibbe

Once upon a time, cell phones got cameras, teens got cell phones and — as legend has it — sexting was born. 

By the late aughts, a veritable moral panic had emerged surrounding the allegedly epidemic rise of teen sexting. As a middle schooler at the time, I and my cell-phone wielding peers were hauled into the auditorium on numerous occasions and lectured on the grave dangers of taking off our clothes and sending pictures via SMS. It was all very Mean Girls sex-ed, except instead of, “Don’t have sex, you will get pregnant and die,” it was more, “Don’t send nudes, because the person you send them to will forward them to everyone else in school and you will kill yourself out of embarrassment.”

A few years later saw the rise of Snapchat, and with the promise of vanishing nudes, anxieties about sexting seemed to evaporate as well. Since then, adults have gotten in on the action themselves, maybe even outsexting the teens. According to a 2015 study, 88 percent of U.S. adults have exchanged some steamy texts, and if Jeff Bezos has taught us anything, it’s that sexting isn’t just for horny high schoolers — it’s for horny, grown-ass adults, too.

That said, just because everybody sexts does not mean everybody sexts well. As with any sex act, there are right and wrong ways to go about sexting. Since there’s no middle school assembly to guide you through it now, we reached out to sex and relationships expert Jess O’Reilly, PhD., host of the Drive Her Wild Video Course and the Sex With Dr. Jess podcast, for advice on how to master the fine art of sexting.

Keep it Consextual

While I’d like to think — despite personal experience to the contrary — that most adult men know unsolicited dick pics are a no-go at this point, not everyone understands the very real issue of consent at the heart of that golden rule.

Sexting is a sex act, and just like any in-person sex act, consent is a necessity, full stop. 

“You should always ask your partner if they’re into a specific sex act or sexual exchange,” says O’Reilly. “It’s so much hotter when your partner is enthusiastic.”

Confirming that you have a willing and enthusiastic partner doesn’t just make the whole encounter more satisfying, it also makes it legal.

“Receiving unsolicited dick pics or sexually explicit messages feels violating and in some cases, you can be charged with sending explicit messages without consent,” warns O’Reilly. 

That means the infamous unsolicited picture of your junk is definitely off the table. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t initiate a spontaneous sexting session. 

“Consent can be cultivated over time,” says O’Reilly, who explains that a partner may consent to receiving sexts regularly. “You don’t necessarily have to ask every single time you send sexy photos as long as you cultivate consent on an ongoing basis and accept that consent can also be withdrawn.”

That said, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. An ill-timed sext could result in some dire consequences, so when in doubt, ask first. Getting consent won’t kill the mood, but getting your partner fired from their job definitely will.

Go Slow

Often cast aside as a last-ditch manifestation of uncurbed horniness, sexting may be the most chronically underrated sex act of our time. Combining the excitement and anticipation of foreplay, the fantasy and privacy of masturbation and the whole interacting with a real, living human aspect of actual sex, sexting is like a finely curated prix fixe menu of only the best parts of the human sexual experience. 

With that in mind, you should treat sexting like a fine, multi-course meal, not an all-you-can-eat buffet. Translation: slow it down. Building anticipation is the name of the game. 

“Anticipation isn’t the precursor to pleasure — anticipation is pleasure,” says O’Reilly. “Dopamine, a chemical associated with reward, pleasure and motivation, is released as soon as you begin to anticipate pleasure — not when you receive it.”

It’s the timeless conundrum of only being able to want what you can’t have, to which sexting presents a kind of loophole by offering an opportunity to delay gratification and spend more time soaking in a suspended dopamine bath. 

Once again, this means hitting pause on the dick pics. 

“Don’t send genital pics right away,” says O’Reilly, who suggests starting with images of other body parts and shooting from multiple angles, sending one at a time to give your partner a chance to use their imagination.

Use it as a Learning Experience 

Sexting is sort of like a dress rehearsal for real-life sex. You want everything to run smoothly, but you still have a chance to work out any last minute kinks (pun more than intended) before opening night. 

“Sexting is a great way to communicate your desires, discuss fantasies and seduce your partner long before you walk into the same room,” says O’Reilly, who explains that sexting can offer a safe, low-pressure opportunity to explore boundaries and cultivate consent that can translate into your IRL sex life as well. 

Meanwhile, sexting is also a chance to brush up on your skills, specifically when it comes to dirty talk. Not everyone has a silver tongue between the sheets, and sexting can give you the time and privacy to practice some risqué new dialogue before you hit the stage. O’Reilly suggests trying out different genres — romantic, sweet, demanding, loving, enticing, playful, fantasy-based — and honing your skills over text before putting them into practice face to face. 

And don’t forget, this isn’t the phone sex of the ’90s or the grainy flip phone nudes of the early aughts. In 2019, sexting is a multimedia activity, so take advantage of the many gifts technology has bestowed upon the horny. 

“Consider multiple approaches to sexting: words, voice notes, GIFS, video clips, live video and photos,” says O’Reilly. “Some people are more responsive to words, while others are more responsive to the sound of our voice, so switch things up to keep it hot.”

Deep down, we’re all just horny teens with phones, and exploiting modern technology for our own sexual fulfillment is a time honored tradition dating all the way back to the cave-painted porn of our earliest ancestors. Happy sexting.

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