Safer Sexting

If you want to sext, it’s essential to check in with the other person to make sure that they’re ok with it. Keep in mind that you can withdraw consent at any time, for any activity, for any reason—this includes sending and receiving sexts.

Safer Sexting

Safer Sexting

Safer Sexting

Published
June 25, 2021
— Updated
Medically Reviewed by
5 minutes

What is sexting?

Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit messages, images, or videos to someone using your phone.

Why do people sext?

People send sexts for a variety of reasons. Some people use sexting to flirt with a crush, explore fantasies, and discover common interests before proceeding to in-person sexual contact. Others sext because they want to build intimacy, add excitement, share sexual thoughts and feelings, or build anticipation for a future sexual encounter within an existing partnership.

Within long-distance partnerships, sexting can be a way to communicate desire and cultivate sexual connection despite physical distance.

Some people feel pressured to sext because they think that everyone is doing it, or because a partner is pushing them to. In fact, research suggests that 3 out of 4 teens have not sent or received a sext; among adults, almost half have never sent or received a sext (1; 2). Being coerced into viewing or sending a sext is abuse and is never ok.

Different types of sexting 

Sexting is a broad category that includes text messages, photos, videos, and images that are sexual in nature. A sext can be relatively tame (“Thinking about you turns me on”) or highly explicit (referring to specific sexual acts and body parts). Some sexts contain nude photos or video clips; others are limited to text.

Less commonly, sexts may consist of audio messages, or of drawings, cartoons, collages, or paintings depicting nude bodies or sexual acts.

Is sexting bad?

When sexts are exchanged with enthusiastic consent and respect for the other person’s boundaries, sexting is one of many ways to explore your sexuality with another person. As with any sexual exchange, though, consent is an absolute must: If you want to sext, it’s essential to check in with the other person to make sure that they’re ok with it. Keep in mind that you can withdraw consent at any time, for any activity, for any reason—this includes sending and receiving sexts.

It’s also important to keep in mind that sexting is not a risk-free activity: Once you send a sext, it’s out of your control, and may end up online. In many places, it’s a crime to possess nude images of a person who is under 18—even if that person is you—and can lead to prosecution.

Safer sexting tips

Before you decide to exchange sexts with someone, it’s important to make sure that you trust them to respect your boundaries and keep your information private. It’s also vital to make sure that you both want to participate in a sexting exchange, and that neither of you feels pressured or coerced. If you haven’t had time to establish trust with someone, you might want to start off with text messages before sending pictures or videos.

It’s a good idea to have a conversation during which you establish consent and discuss boundaries before the first sext is sent: Do you want to exchange pictures, or keep it to text only? If you’ve agreed to share pics, are there any areas of your body you’d like to keep off-limits? Are there times of day when you’d prefer to send or receive sexts? Is there anything that makes you uncomfortable about sexting, or specific topics you’d prefer to avoid? Talking things through before you start can help to build trust and ensure that everyone feels safe and respected.

It’s a good idea to avoid depicting anything that could reveal your identity in explicit photos: Leaving out your face, identifying features like tattoos or birthmarks, distinctive jewelry or items of clothing, and backgrounds that give away your location, can help to protect your privacy.

Sexting mistakes to avoid

If someone sends you a sext, never forward it to another person, post it online, or show it to someone else. Sharing a sext without permission is a consent violation. Depending on the circumstances, it may also be a crime.

Don’t send a sext to someone if you’re not sure that they want to receive it. Even if you think that sexting is a harmless way to flirt, the other person might experience it as a violation of their boundaries. Similarly, if someone asks you to send a sext and you’re not 100% comfortable with it, feel empowered to say no.

Alcohol and other drugs can interfere with your judgment and decision-making. It’s a good idea to avoid sexting when you’re drunk or high to ensure that you’re sexting responsibly and keeping yourself and others safe.

Sexting alternatives

Many people choose not to sext, either because of the risks involved, or simply because they don’t want to. You have the right to say no to any activity that doesn’t feel good, sexting included.

If you don’t want to sext but still want to explore sexually with someone remotely, there are other ways to connect:

1. Email. Sending an email lets you go into a depth of detail and description that text doesn’t allow.

2. Write a letter. Old fashioned snail-mail doesn’t have the immediacy of text—but that’s part of its appeal. The time it takes to craft a thoughtful erotic letter, and the delayed gratification of waiting for a reply, can build anticipation and be even hotter than a quick text.

3. Write a story. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a writer, spinning a sexy narrative can be a great way to connect. It can also allow you to incorporate creative scenarios, far-flung settings, even elements of fantasy or sci-fi.

4. Make some art. Using art—even if your skillset is limited to stick figures—can be a creative alternative to traditional sexts. Exchanging sexy drawings, paintings, collages— even sculptures—can be a fun and playful way to connect with someone. And since you’re not limited by the confines of reality, you can let your imagination run wild!

5. Phone sex. If you want to exchange fantasies with someone but prefer not to text, good, old-fashioned phone sex can be a great way to experience sexual connection from a distance. Sharing dirty-talk can be a fulfilling sexual experience in of itself.

The bottom line

With enthusiastic consent from all parties involved and basic safety precautions, sexting can be an enjoyable way to connect. No sexual activity is completely risk-free, but respecting others’ boundaries, cultivating trust, and checking in with yourself and your partner to make sure that everyone feels good about the exchange can help you to practice safer sexting.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Emily A. Klein (she/her) is a freelance writer with deep interests in sexuality and health. As a student of cultural anthropology, she researched and wrote about kink, abortion, harm-reduction approaches to substance use in the LGBTQ+ community, and cross-cultural understandings of gender, sexuality, and the body. She has designed and implemented a sexual health curriculum for adolescent girls, worked with foster youth and those experiencing housing insecurity, and volunteered as an emergency first responder. Her writing has appeared in The Establishment, Edible magazine, The Seattle Lesbian, Slog, and elsewhere.

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References

1. Madigan, Sheri, Anh Ly, Christina L. Rash, Joris Van Ouytsel, & Jeff R. Temple. 2018. “Prevalence of Multiple Forms of Sexting Behavior Among Youth.” JAMA Pediatrics, 172, no. 4 (April): 327. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.5314

2. Klettke, Bianca, David J. Hallford & David J. Mellor. 2014. “Sexting prevalence and correlates: A systematic literature review.” Clinical Psychology Review, 34, no. 1. (February): 44–53. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2013.10.007