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Sex + Relationships

Your Guide to Sexting: Taking Control of Your Sext Life

The text message—it’s short, to the point, and usually costs ten cents or less.  You don’t have to wait for busy signals, dial tones, voicemail, or the awkwardness of speaking to someone you might not know very well.  As instant as an e-mail and a smidge less threatening than a phone call, it’s no wonder that our generation is obsessed with texting—so obsessed that texts have become an integral mode of communication.  When I look around and see everybody staring at the screen of their cell phone while fervently T9ing away, I can’t help but wonder what they’re talking about.  What’s so interesting that it can’t wait for a phone call?  Is it gossip (my personal favorite), homework, or even…sex?

The sexual text message—or sext for short—is a widely-used platform for pick-ups, hook-ups, and flirting.  It can be anything from a short sexy sentence to a full-on nude photo, and more people do it than you would expect.  In a recent study conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and Cosmogirl.com, it was concluded that 59% of young adults (aged 20-26) and 39% of teens (ages 13-19) have sent or received sexually suggestive pictures or messages. 

If you think sexting could be a fun way to spice up your sex life, or you’re already well versed in fitting the maximum amount of flirtiness into 160 characters, type away but proceed with caution.  Here are some things to consider before you hit send.

He Saw My What?

The summer before she started college, Amanda Collins* sent an X-rated picture text of her new boob job to her friend-with-benefits.  After things went sour it was obvious that there were very few benefits to having this friend, because within two weeks the entire class of 2006 had seen her graduation present.

Amanda Collins is not alone.  23% of young adults have shared a sexually suggestive message with someone other than who it was intended for.  But even though everyone knows it’s incredibly embarrassing to have a nude photo shared, what they don’t know is that sometimes it’s considered a sex crime.

There are no laws that specifically address sexting, but teens that take, send, or even just receive these pictures and messages are being charged with child pornography. For some, this has resulted in losing scholarships, jobs, and even becoming registered sex offenders.

According to NBC News, in 2009 a Wisconsin 17-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography after posting nude-photos of his 16-year-old girlfriend online.  A 16-year-old boy from Rochester, NY faced up to seven years in prison for forwarding a sext from his 15-year-old girlfriend, and four middle school students were arrested in Alabama for exchanging nude photos.

There is no doubt that if you are under the age of 18, you should steer clear of sexting, but what if both parties are older? Sexting is a gamble, and even if the law is on your side, the recipient of that nude photo of you from last year’s Spring Break might not be.
The Damage

Picture this: it’s 12 a.m. and you’re alone watching Twilight on HBO while munching on a giant bag of cheesy popcorn (or my preferred method of snacking—peppermint ice cream out of the carton).  You come to that steamy scene where Bella and Edward almost have sex, when your heart turns to mush, and you realize you miss your boyfriend.  You reach over to your phone and send him a flirty text of the cute new bra you picked up when you were shopping with the girls, but it turns out your boyfriend is not on the receiving end.  He left his phone unattended while he refilled his drink, and his two best buddies took the liberty of forwarding it to their whole fraternity. The embarrassment ensues.

“In the heat of the moment, one may feel comfortable sending a provocative photo of oneself, but what assurance is there that your sexy photograph won't be forwarded to dozens of others?”
says Rachel Reed, Psychotherapist. “That's the inherent danger in sexting.”

Sexting can be fun and flirty, which is why it’s no surprise that 74% of young adult women send them for that reason. What isn’t fun and flirty is the emotional damage caused by pictures that end up in the wrong hands.  Just last year a 13-year-old girl committed suicide after a nude photo she sent her boyfriend was forwarded, spawning numerous verbal attacks and constant bullying at her school.

“The emotional consequences [of sexting] stem from this lack of control and subsequent feelings of betrayal that can arise from sexting gone awry,” says Reed. “Victims often struggle to regain a sense of privacy and control.”

What takes you only ten seconds to send can leave you with feelings of embarrassment, guilt, depression, and betrayal.

The Positives

Even though you can never be sure about what’s going to happen when you hit send, a well written sext does have its purpose. A flirty text message is the one non-confrontational way to hit on that hottie down the hall.  To every girl who’s awkwardly tried to ask that boy back to her apartment, it’s time learn how to master the 160 character pick-up. J.D. Sexy-Time, Sex Columnist for The Purchase Independent, swears by the positivity sexting has brought to her sex life.

“I got [a] texting [plan] in December and I have to say, to be totally honest, that I’ve gotten much more laid as a result of texting,” she says. “It’s a really unassuming way of making a pass at somebody.  It’s less aggressive because it’s not personal. I’m not in his physical space.”

Because texting is so impersonal, J.D. adds, “If it’s someone you are trying to have a relationship with, you should try to get to know them first rather than sexting, but if it’s just about sex, who cares?”

Remember, rejection still hurts, but it’s somewhat diffused via text.

Sexting also offers those in the dreaded LDR (long distance relationship) a way to connect, even when they are 1,500 miles away.  If you and your significant other don’t get much face-time, whether it’s because of distance or unforgiving schedules, it might be fun to fully utilize your mobile phone.

“I sext occasionally with my boyfriend,” says 21-year-old student Michelle Parks*. “We're both really busy with work and school. Whatever free time we have doesn't always match up so sometimes we send each other sexy, suggestive pictures (usually in fun undies rather than nude, always without the face) to build suspense for the next time we can meet up.”

Alternatively, you and your significant other might see too much of each other, causing your sex life to fall into the realm of predictability.  A fun text freshens things up and raises excitement for the next time you’ll see each other.  The right text message could be a major turn-on—the kind that reignites your spark.
Always Use Protection.

When you have sex, you use a condom or birth control to protect yourself from STDs or unplanned pregnancy.  Unlike the physical act, there is no way to ensure that something won’t go wrong when you sext.  Pictures can always be forwarded or lost phones can end up in the hands of an unsuspecting bystander.  This is why it’s important to take the proper precautions before you engage in a risqué text conversation. Here are some things you can do to make sure you don’t get burned.

“Your face should never be in any picture, nor should anything that would be able to identify you be in the background,” says J.D. Sex-Time. “If you are taking it in your room, don’t take it near anything that is going to give you away.  You never know who you are dealing with.” 

Unless you’re cool with eight strangers gawking at your well placed tattoo, it’s probably a good idea to leave certain things out of the frame—that goes for birthmarks, tattoos, jewelry, and obviously, your face.  If there is nothing distinguishing in your picture, there is no way for someone to be certain it’s you.

Parks stays safe by leaving her naughty pictures in her inbox, rather than saving them into her cell phone’s photo albums. “On the off chance that someone looks through your phone, they're more likely to look through your pictures than your texts,” she says.

It’s also helpful to delete messages right after you receive them. That way, it reduced the chances of someone else seeing them if your phone is misplaced.

Parks also follows sexting’s most sacred rule: know who’s on the other end.

“I would only ever sext with someone who I trusted completely and have been with for a long time,” she says. “I know my boyfriend respects me and wouldn't hand my pictures out.”

Sext messaging is risky business. It can be fun, it can be disastrous, and sometimes it feels like a game of Russian Roulette (or Chat Roulette, since there’s probably a lot more nudity in that). There is one thing that all sexters must always revere: when you hit send, you can’t take it back.

*names have been changed to protect identity

ABC News
Rachel Reed, Psychotherapist
Sex and Tech: Results from a survey of teens and young adults

Mariel Loveland is in love with writing. She recently graduated from SUNY Purchase College wtih a major in Creative Writing and a minor in Studio Composition. There she was the editor-in-chief of The Independent, her campus's only print news source. Currently, she runs a blog entitled "Writing the Ship" (http://www.writing-the-ship.blogspot.com) where she documents her life as a recent graduate. When she is not writing words, she can be found writing songs for her punk band and playing guitar loudly in the basements of seedy (and sometimes not-so-seedy) NYC clubs. In the past, Mariel has interned for Lucky Magazine in the Online Editorial Department and Columbia Records as part of their A&R and Digital Research team as well as contributing to other on-campus publications. In her spare time, she dabbles in graphic design, fiction writing, and window shopping on the internet. Currently, she works at Babble.com where she handles all their social media.
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