As we sexual beings of the 21st century, advance into the technological age, we have found ourselves facing a new realm of issues that our analogue parents never encountered in their college years: sexting. As much as I love the charm of a naughty fax, the unpredictable social etiquette that comes with whispering sweet nothings to someone’s phone is mostly uncharted. For example, how does one navigate an unfortunate auto-correct? “I wanna duck you so hard” doesn’t have that ring of urgent desire you were probably going for. In a dating app scenario, how does one feel out the appropriate moment to state your true intention? A perhaps more succinct inquiry would be to tie these disparate questions into a set of rules for the refined sexter. Is there a basic sexting code we have yet to crack?
I would define a sext as any SMS/MMS sent in order to elicit the recipient’s sexual arousal. The advantage of this definition to me is that it allows us to look at sexting the same way we would any sexual encounter: we perceive it as a preliminary sexual activity. Therefore, I’d divide sexts the same way I would all sexual encounters: either between romantically committed individuals, or just good’ol hookups of any sort. The former category is much less tricky to navigate: between two comfortable partners, a small slip-up in expectations should go fairly unnoticed. It’s within the encounter of two (or more) strangers looking for a good fuck that social expectations have to be met. It is of primordial importance not to be that creeper on Tinder who sends unsolicited dick pics to everyone in a three-mile radius.
One thing that fascinates me within hookup-oriented sexting is its ritualized nature. To take an example familiar to me, is there really any doubt that when two guys whose profiles state “looking for now” on Grindr start chatting that they’re looking for some action tonight? Even so, it is more likely than not that a sequence of “Hi, how are you, what are you up to, what are you looking for, are you interested” is going to ensue, followed by the momentous pic swap that will determine whether they meet.
Cutting to the chase could result in castigation: the common profile stereotype “no creeps” exemplifies this. Is being direct really so repugnant? When did open and clear discussion of sexual intention start being viewed like the acts of some backstreet flasher? On Grindr, therefore, a significant part of etiquette would be an ironic prudishness that comes from the reverence of formulaic rituals.
This prudishness contrasts quite starkly to the urgency of certain scenarios. Imagine a situation where you and some girl you’ve hooked up with once are chatting and considering taking a “study break” together. One of you sends a flirtier text than the norm, which is welcomed by an equally saucy reply. The clear shift in tone means that you can’t really revert to casual conversation without some sort of resolution or climax – the only option is to keep blabbing about what you’d do to her. The only solution I can think of is to fake it: something like, “fuck this is too hot, save the rest for when I see you or I’m going to bust.” It may sound ridiculously exaggerated out of context, but how else do you extract yourself from a commentary on mammary shape to do some reading before a night out? Saving face, and giving a good performance, seem like the keys to this particular scenario.
So if appropriate attitudes towards sextiquette (testing new terminology here) can range from a reverence of coded platitudes to artificial lust, where’s the common thread? Well, I’d argue it’s about needing to uphold expectations, and more specifically to ignore the lack of face-to-face interaction. If you tell a boy you want to suck his dick, you better want to suck his dick more than doing that orgo post-lab. Imagine picking up some history reading as you take a breathing break from licking a girl out. Similarly, you’d never go up to someone in person in a bar and silently flash your abs before dragging them to the nearest cubicle. I’d argue that much of the discrepancy between what I describe as common attitudes and my reaction to them stems from a conscious awareness of the the texting medium, and what it’s differences from real life.
And so, as much as I view sexting as a distinct ballgame from cruising in a bar, it seems everyone doesn’t agree, or at least that common attitudes haven’t taken into account the novelty of the medium. As an example, there’s something liberating about potential partners knowing exactly what you’re looking for before they speak to you: in a hookup culture where sexual assault is a reality, the mutual objectification of a dating app and the ability to easily block users means all parties have equal say within the sex talk domain and expectations on both parties (I’m not addressing aesthetic hierarchies here, like the reverence of buff young white gay men, which is fucked up and a different issue, but rather the ability to be blunt without repercussions).
Perhaps things are better as they are, but I for one would love to have people take things a bit less seriously, and be honest about who, what and when they want to be skewing (Duck you autocorrect. Screwing).