Sexting: What, Why and How to Safely
Important note: This content applies to adults ages 18 and older.
So...you’re texting with a new romantic interest, or maybe even someone you’ve been seeing for a while, and the conversation starts getting hot and heavy. You’ve both provided enthusiastic consent, but you’re still wondering whether or not sexting is okay and how you should go about it.
We’ve got you covered.
First things first: let’s go over what sexting is and what sexting isn’t. We’ll cover the basics as well as some tips for how to stay a little safer if you’re planning to sext in the near future.
What is sexting?
Sexting is... well... what it sounds like: a combination of sex and texting, but it’s not just limited to text messages. Sexting is the act of sending sexual content to someone else. In today’s digital age, it’s even considered a type of foreplay.
Sexting can happen through sexually explicit text messages, provocative audio clips, suggestive selfies, or videos. No matter what form sexting takes, it should always be a consensual practice between two or more parties. That means you’ll want to feel out the waters of your courtship or relationship before diving right into sexting behavior and you should expect to ask for and give mutual consent before sending or receiving a sext.
Sexting has evolved over the years through the changing landscape of social media and the influx of young adults on social messaging platforms. Take Snapchat for example, and it’s “delete is our default” mantra. Snapchat is an enticing platform for sexting, since users can see or send racy content to one another that will self-destruct (or automatically delete) within 24 hours. But beware of the screenshot!
But sexting definitely is not limited to Snapchat—it can take place through all the many different ways we use our cell phones, like text messages, social messaging apps, other social media apps, like Instagram (which also has a disappearing message feature now), or on video calls through WhatsApp and FaceTime. However you decide to engage in sexting, take caution and make sure you trust the other party. Just like with in person intimacy—trust and consent are key when it comes to sexting.
What are some sexting examples?
So, what makes a sext a sext? Here are some of the major types of sexting.
Photos: Sexual or racy photos including provocative poses, nude photos, explicit images or visual references. Sexual images can range in content or interpretation.
Videos: Video clips that focus on body parts that might normally be covered by clothing. These can depict sexual acts like masturbation and/or can contain sex toys like a vibrator.
Audio messages: A suggestive or sexually explicit audio clip, for example dirty talk or noises you might make during a sexual act.
Texts: Text messages that contain sexual content or are inherently sexual in nature. These can include a prevalence of emojis, used suggestively to represent body parts or sex acts.
What are some common sexting facts?
Here are three important sexting facts to keep in mind.
- Sexting is common and healthy behavior.
According to sex educators and sexologists, it’s more common than we think. In fact, the majority of adults (and many young adults) have sexted at least one time. The LA times even reported that 88% of U.S. adults have said they’ve sexted. That includes while in committed, long-term relationships or when beginning a fun and flirty courtship. We repeat: there’s no shame in the sext. So let’s normalize sexting behavior!
- Bad actors exist, everywhere.
And we’re not just talking sex offenders here. There is potential danger in sexting someone you don’t know very well, or even someone who you’ve known for years. Ever heard of revenge porn or sextortion? With 1 in 14 internet users under the age of 30 experiencing some form of revenge porn, it is a growing problem that can cause real trauma and suffering.
That’s why it’s important to take a safer approach to sexting, as seen below.
- There are laws that prohibit sexting under certain circumstances.
Sending or receiving sexually explicit messages under the age of 18 is considered child pornography and can result in criminal charges in some states. You can learn more about state laws around sexting from cyberbullying.org.
A safer approach to sexting
While there’s inherent risk in sharing your sexual desires over text, there are ways to safeguard your sexting experience. First, let’s unravel some of the risks, which may include:
- Someone shares your sexts with other people without your consent
- Someone posts your nude photos online
- Someone sees your sexts on your device
Now, let’s look at ways to mitigate those risks. So you can get back to (or start) sexting in a safer way that feels comfortable to you.
- Consent is everything. If there’s one thing to take away from all of this, it’s that consent is key. It matters above all else. Which means, you should not be sending sexual messages to another person without clear consent. That means nude photos, videos of sexual activity, explicit messages, and everything in between.
Tip: If someone sends you a sext that makes you uncomfortable — especially if it came out of nowhere and without warning — it can be an early red flag of them pushing boundaries.
- Go slow. This applies to a brand-new courtships and long-term relationships. If you’re starting to explore something new with your romantic partner, then ease into sexting, too — together at a pace that works for both of you.
Tip: Start by sending flirtatious text messages. Get to know the other person a little bit better before sending photos or more explicit sexts.
- Don’t show your face. Period. And avoid personally identifiable details, too. That includes tattoos, birthmarks, or scars that could easily identify you to others.
- Blur your background. Or better yet, hide it altogether. You can learn a lot about someone by seeing what’s in the background of their pics. That can include their neighborhood, the layout of their home, what they did last night (event wristbands, takeout food cartons, etc.), or whether minors are present if there are children’s toys in the photo.
- Take a screenshot of your original photo. Rather than sending a photo or video directly, take a screenshot or a screen recording of the content and send that. We love this tip because it’s a good practice to follow regardless of whether you’re sexting or not. There’s a ton of metadata stored in your original cell phone photo — including your approximate location — which can be viewed or accessed by the recipient.
- Delete from the cloud. Because this is the type of material you don’t want to backup or view at another time, on another device. Many cellphones are connected to cloud services, which means your photos aren’t just saved on one personal device. And if your online account was hacked, well — let’s not even go there. Make sure to opt out of cloud storage backup or just delete your sext history altogether.
- Watermark the image. You don’t have to be a visual designer to do this. It’s simple! Add some sort of text or image on top of the image you sent, ideally in the middle of the photo so it can’t be cropped out.
Tip: If you’re sexting with multiple partners at the same time, try using unique watermarks for each person. That way, you’d be able to trace the image back to the original recipient if anything happened.
- Use a link to send sexts. The savviest of sexters are starting to use services like DocSend. You can turn on specific settings for your images, like adding a password and/or restricting access to ensure only the intended recipient can view your files.
Tip: A link won’t stop someone from screenshotting the image, but it can help reduce some risk.
Always use caution when sexting
Let’s face it, the exchange of sexual messages and images was here way before the Internet. It’s a normal part of the human experience. But, sexting should be done in the safest way possible. That means ensuring consent above all else, and mitigating any possible risk.
Always use caution when sexting or sending explicit messages to a sexting partner. If it’s not sexting, then there might be another way to flirt, take your courtship to the next level, or improve the sexual health of your relationship.