Is sexting fun, sexy or cringe? We asked women to share their good, bad and indifferent sexting experiences.
Welcome to No Love Lost, where we explore everything from attachment theory to sexting, to unpick how our experiences of relationships and dating have been changed and challenged during lockdown.
The best sext I ever read was short, simple, strong: “I want your body.”
Sadly, it was sent not to me, but to my ex-boyfriend. I know this because I saw it flash up on his phone screen one morning while he was in the shower. It was from his ex. When he walked into the bedroom in a towel, I told him she was welcome to both him and his body and left. And that, my friends, was the end of that.
That sad story aside, I’ve always felt unsure about sexting. When it’s good, it’s great but when it’s bad, it’s awful. Other women say they feel the same. In a straw poll conducted with Stylist staff and readers, 81% said they send and receive sexts but only 27% said an outright yes when asked if they like it (18% said no, 45% said it depends on who, where and when and the undecided remainder chose ‘I don’t know’). 36% had sent a sext in the last month and 54.5% said they have done more sexting since the first lockdown began in March 2020.
An independent piece of research conducted by The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) in February 2021 (about 11 months into lockdown) showed that while cases of STDs were down, sexting during the pandemic had risen by 33% compared to pre-Covid times. So we’re all doing it more, for obvious reasons, but are we doing it right?
Sherryl Blu is a creative sex educator, podcaster and a fan of sexting. She says that lockdown has forced some of to us to revaluate sex. “In some ways it’s encouraged us to learn new ways to satisfy our needs from a distance,” she explains. “If you’re not in a bubble with someone that can physically give you what you need, it can be frustrating. Sexting allows you to indulge your desires in a different kind of way. It invites you to be more descriptive and expressive and because that unspoken energy you get face to face is absent, you have to find the right words, emojis or gifs to convey the message you want. It can be exciting and, if engaging with someone that you are fantasising about having physical sex with, it can be a huge turn-on.”
Frustration aside, lockdown may have made us all a bit freer.” While being forced to keep our distance, we may have become more at ease with expressing our sexuality, which can only be a good thing. But there is a caveat: while sexting has its merits, it’s only fun if you are comfortable with the conversation and are engaging willingly.
“If you’re about to engage in sexting, I’d say: first of all, be sure that you actually want to and you are 100% consenting to the conversation. As with anything to do with sex (and other stuff), consent is crucial and should be implied explicitly. Be sure you’re truly comfortable and if you are… great!
Then, she adds, just like with a real sexual encounter, the build-up or foreplay is essential.
“You want to set the scene, conjure up images and thoughts in your mind as you type out messages and receive them. Use language that is you. There is a huge difference between allowing yourself to be free and trying to be someone completely different. Just be authentic and go with the flow. If it gets really intense, you may want to escalate to sending voice notes or video messaging. Both are cool and could add another level to your conversation but again, only do so if you’re absolutely happy to.”
If you’re unsure how to get started, Sherryl Blu suggests starting with an icebreaker, or playing a game like ‘Would You Rather?’ or ‘Have You Ever?’
If things go too far, or drift into territory you aren’t cool with, let them know. “This doesn’t have to mean the conversation is over with but if they continue to show a lack of respect for your boundaries, then maybe it is time to end things. Through excitement, some people may get carried away with suggestions and dirty talk and forget themselves in the moment. Don’t be afraid to remind them of your boundaries. You want to enjoy this just as much as them so don’t be forced to compromise.”
For women who feel like they don’t enjoy sexting, Sherryl advises asking yourself what puts you off. Are you stuck on what to say? Do you find it all a bit cringe? “If, after understanding your hang-ups with it, you do decide to give it a go, create a set of rules for yourself. While this may sound all technical and a bit preppy, knowing you have set boundaries for yourself could put you at ease.”
And finally, with the rise of revenge porn, she urges that if you are concerned about a breach of your trust, then don’t do it. “The fact is, trust and respect are essential. Know what floats your boat and steer the conversation in that direction. Should you ever feel like you’re being used as wanking material and not getting anything back from it, end it. Try not to overthink things but definitely go into this knowing what you want out of it.”
Scroll down to read the responses to our survey…
What’s the best type of sext?
“I have received this, and honestly it’s as sexual as it gets! ‘When we have sex I’m just thinking ‘fucking hell this is so amazing I can’t believe this is happening’ while simultaneously willing part of my soul into your body so that we are smushed together and I can stay there, a part of your being that you have to love forever.’”
“I think I prefer suggestive rather than explicit sexts like: “I want to put my hands around you and feel your nails dig into my back as I take you to the edge.”
“I’ve honestly never got one, other than a weird unsolicited message from a Scotsman asking me to fondle his Loch Ness monster!”
What are the cons of sexting?
“I’m always really terrified that someone will screenshot what I say and post it online!”
“Pretending to be in the mood when I’m not. I enjoy receiving sexts more than I enjoy sending them, which might be because I get nervous about saying the right thing. Love getting a spontaneous naughty message when I’m doing something mundane in the middle of the afternoon, but I can’t always guarantee I’ll be in the right headspace to reciprocate.”
“It’s SO awkward. Everything sounds unnatural because I would never say anything of the sort out loud and it feels like you’re regurgitating a racy paperback. Like seriously, what are you meant to go for? Does throwing a phrase like “throbbing cock” in there sound like the right kind of thing? It makes my skin crawl to even think about me trying to attempt it.”
“I have had a few traumas related with sex, and so I can’t really engage if I don’t feel safe or connected with the person involved. I don’t feel anything from it other than nervous and a bit powerless.”
“I just cringe SO hard at anything that’s said - like it makes me feel sick rather than turned on.”
Has sexting helped your lockdown love life?
“Big time! Though I never would have believed it before, I don’t think I would have found such a level of intimate comfort with my boyfriend if we didn’t have to rely on sexting for so long. Dirty voice notes helped a lot, too.”
“I think flirting has, but not sexting? The difference to me is that sexting is very much about what you’ll ‘do’ to the other person, whereas flirting can be… well, anything hot!”
“It helped me feel more attractive and got me in the mood for dating in Lockdown 1 since it was all new to me at the time. But, sometimes it gets a bit much and too soon when you don’t really know the person. Has to be under the right conditions!”
“Yeah, it’s definitely helped keep a relationship alive when we couldn’t see each other.”
Illustrations by Nadia Akingbule
Katy Harrington is Stylist’s commissioning editor and acting deputy digital editor.