“The numbers that survive in my phone don’t belong to those boys and men who were best at fucking me, but the ones who were, and are, best at telling me how – and why, and where, and also in which places – they would fuck me,” Sarah Nicole Prickett wrote in The New Inquiry in 2012. A decade later, there remains the essential caveat that undoubtedly, no matter the talented wordsmiths these men may have been, their words would look painfully cringe in the eyes of some if offered up for public consumption.
Such is the case for many celebrity sexters (here’s looking at you, Jeff Bezos and King Charles) whose messages have been displayed to the world, like those recently of Maroon 5’s Adam Levine. “It is truly unreal how fucking hot you are,” he wrote to a woman through Instagram DMs. “Like it blows my mind.” The recipient probably felt flattered, maybe successful in the choice of image she shared with him. “Holy fuck,” he typed. “That body of yours is absurd”. Of those who were privy to this private convo, most saw these messages as the mark of a “bad” sexter, exuding immaturity and a lack of creativity. With that in mind, what does it take to be a good one? Thumbs at the ready…
Keep it natural
Firstly, don’t overthink it. You are not Adam Levine, and with any luck, your sexts will not be revealed to thousands of unsuspecting Twitter users. Any sext would look corny to some out of context, even if just as many thought it was fine, or even hot. But treating your sexting with this anxiety in mind will only imbue you with a sense of unease that the medium really doesn’t require.
“Everything looks a little goofy reading it out of context,” says Taco, 39, from Montana, who believes he’s managed to avoid being too embarrassing in his sexts. “Your best bet is to not get too clever or flowery. Just say what you want.”
That said, there are still plenty of practical bits of advice you can follow. “Most sexual communication scholars would agree that the criteria for ‘good’ sexting would be any consensual sexting that makes the sender and the recipient feel aroused and excited,” says Chelsea Reynolds, a California State University professor whose research focuses on sexuality and media. “What works for one couple won’t necessarily work for the next.”
There are three main rules that Reynolds emphasises: “one; describe what turns you on about the recipient, two; build anticipation for future real-life encounters, and three; replay savoury details of past encounters.”
The devil is in the detail
Even without any real-life experiences with a specific partner, you can still approach sexting with a similar attitude. “I think it’s arguably the same as real, in-person sex: focusing on your partner’s needs, not just your own and making it fun and exciting (and getting as detailed as possible),” says Evan, 33, from Los Angeles, another sexter.
This point about detail is arguably most crucial. What many found dull and immature about the sexts of Adam Levine is that they were so… unspecific. Saying a woman is “so fucking hot” is nice, but it would be better to detail what about her invokes that feeling. Is it her lips? The curvature of her waist? The way she presents herself to you with her camera?
Highlighting these characteristics not only feels like a bigger compliment in their specificity, but also provides a starting point for including more details about the imagined encounters you’d like to have with this person. For example, what would you like to do with their lips? How would you like to touch their waist? The idea is to facilitate scene-building in your partner’s head – the more detail you can provide about your imagined tryst, the more vivid it will be.
Margaret, a 29-year-old from New York City, says that for her, what separates someone from an average sexter to a good one is their willingness to say “crazy, out-of-pocket shit at a random time”. For her, it’s the spontaneity and boldness that she enjoys. Again, though, what marks something as “crazy” is defined almost entirely by the level of detail involved – it’s not simply “I want to fuck you,” it’s “I want to fuck you in this specific location, in this specific position, under these specific circumstances.”
Don’t forget the visuals
Exchanging nudes is often a core element of a sexting encounter. However, there are a few rules that can elevate your photo-passing. If you’re lucky enough to receive a nude, don’t just send one back without commenting on the one you’ve received – it’s just good manners. Flatter the sender and tell them how the photo makes you feel. Be expressive!
Again, use the photo as a starting point for continuing in the mental picture-painting. Of course, you may ask your partner if they’d like to receive one of you, too. You know your best angles, but try to ensure that both you and your surroundings appear relatively clean – no one needs to see your pile of laundry in the background. As for emojis, those should be strictly avoided unless you’re both just being playful. Emojis can be flirty, but they are never actually erotic. Nobody gets turned on by the aubergine emoji.
Be cringe… consensually
A hopefully obvious stipulation with all of this is that the prerequisite for all sexting is consent. Sending a spontaneous sext to someone with whom you’ve previously sexted that has signalled they’re comfortable with getting dirty in the DMs is hot, but spontaneously sexting someone without any sort of agreement beforehand is sexual harassment. Sharing sexts with outsiders is a breach of consent, too. The assumption should always be that no one else is going to peep the X‑rated messages (unless this has been discussed beforehand), though this isn’t always followed.
“It may not be realistic for celebrities to expect privacy around sexual content mediated by tech platforms, but I think society should be much more forgiving about sexting, live camming, and other forms of online sexual expression,” says Reynolds. “Personally, I think it’s a sad day for the Internet when cancel culture has effectively stifled online sexual expression.”
Assuming all sexting is mutually agreed upon, here’s the ultimate truth: it’s OK for sexting to be cringe. Sex itself is cringe! Even the seemingly smoothest of couples would likely come off as embarrassing to an outside party if their private conversations were leaked. The point, however, is that intimacy between two people is only meant to exist between those two people – not intended for public consumption. There’s no need to consider what some shaming third-party or cultural arbiter thinks of your saucy SMS. All that matters is how you and your partner feel. And hopefully, that’s hot as fuck for each other.
“All sex is inherently embarrassing and you’re putting your vulnerability on display for another person,” says Evan. “The whole point is that they are at the very least attracted to you and are accepting of that intimacy.”
In sexting, that vulnerability now has a digital form, raising the stakes and transforming it into something we can materially confront. But really, isn’t that all part of the fun?