I Think We Should All Be Sexting More
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York based writer who has a deep affinity for weight-lifting, living mindfully, and the em-dash. She has been published at Women’s Health Magazine where she is part of the online editorial team, and Feather Magazine, where she was a contributing health writer. In her free time she can be found reading self-help books, Tindering in public, and making soup.
I found my sexual agency in an iPhone screen.
I found my sexual desire before touch was performed, before there was ever intention of it being performed. I found my sexual agency in word-porn, in word fantasies, in body bargaining, and desire, dialogue. Sexting changed not only the nature of what intimacy looks like for me but the way I negotiate sexual contacts - sexual contracts, even.
Through sexting, I learned to speak about my desires, to present my body in ways that feel true and ultimately transformative for my sexual storyline. Writing with great description about my fantasies and the visual language of my body taught me about vulnerability, built confidence within me, and turned my sexual relationships open. Through a sext, I become an active agent in my own sexuality. Yet our society has a moral panic around sexting, especially women sexting. (Did you know a teenagers can be charged with the possession of child pornography for having nudes or shots deemed sexual of themselves?) The narrative around sexting presented by media is typically negative - Who (morally) would sext? And what in the world is wrong with them, for desiring such?
There is great anxiety about sexuality, sexual power, and sexual agency, where mainstream conversations are concerned. This conversations fail to take into account the safe space sexting provides for overcoming shame, body-anxiety, and histories of (sexual) trauma. Sexting takes away the potential violence, fear, and anxiety that comes with the immediate intensity of physical presence. It simultaneously offers the chance to be direct and clear with what you want AND the opportunity to discover and explore new desires. Moreover, when used correctly, it offers both partners equal opportunity to start, stop, and direct the interaction. For women especially, sexting offers a place of exploration, intimacy, connection, imagination, fantasy, and sex in a space that is liberatingly balanced and responsive. (For people like myself who have trouble reaching orgasm, sexting takes orgasm out of the equation. The coming is not the point, the point is the communication).
Doing a little legwork for this article, I pose this question to a group of six particularly sweaty, hungry, and sex-deprived CrossFitters as we chow down on burgers: “You guys think sexting counts as sex… Don’t you?”. Was I looking for validation for my affinity for digital teasing? Was I trying to see how other millennials categorize and label their sexting habits? Either way, I was baffled when the answer comes in at in an a unanimous “no”. “Nothing deflates my dick quite like the eggplant emoji”, teases one, which turns the conversation into a swirl of emoji-hating, as if all sexting conversations are doomed to end with the hilarious vegetable. Aside from the occasional devil/angel ironic emoji combo and winky face, emoji’s are absent from the the way in which I express my sexual desires. But I’m not afraid of that humor. I’m not afraid of interrupting the immediacy of desire with an eggplant. I’m not afraid of veering towards the comical. Sexting is serious? It needn’t be. Make me laugh, and I’ll vouch on your ability to make me moan.
My question to the table was wrong. Instead of trying to understand sexting for what it is or what it is not, it would be more valuable and more specific to ask what it is and what it does.
What pleasures are specific to sexting?
Sexting transcends boundaries where sex may not be possible (i.e. distance, ability, fear). The pleasure of virtual sexuality isn’t (necessarily or always) about other people; it’s about the ideal sexual self that you can imagine for yourself if you don’t have to stop and account for all the ways in which you aren’t what (or where) you want to be. The pleasure of virtual sexting, is all the ways in which desire can be articulated, formulated, and negotiated. Moreover, it offers the opportunity to explore one’s own body and one’s own fantasies. That could mean touching yourself in ways you’d never touch yourself in someone's presence. That could mean wearing sweatpants you’d never wear with a lover present. That could mean taking the time to articulate your wants - time that you might not have in the immediacy of the physical now.
Because sexting combines the word and the body in a way that encourages self-reflection and sexual self-regard, it has the potential to break down barriers of shame surrounding desires and the body’s appearance and sexual tastes. With sexting, a story is being built around our bodies and our minds and what they want or how they responded. We exchange our desires. As we watch the bubble of a response appear, we are roleplaying.
My sexual relationships are so deeply ingrained in the technological, they’re cyborgian. My phone is the the third person in the relationship, as their phone is the fourth. Or maybe the phone is not a person, but an attachment, a necessary limb for sex (like a tongue, a finger, an earlobe). This is not unique to one relationship nor another. Rather, this is the reality of Tinder, iMessaging, DM’s, and the photo quality of the iPhone 7.
“You speak to your lovers with poetry”, a friend of mine says. The sentiment is familiar: my words entice, my language eroticizes, my phone is the tool with which my partners come undone. Sexting transforms. It has become integral. It is part of the reality of being intimate with me. The truth is, I am better at writing out my desire than I am at demanding it. But as I language my desire, I become better at putting words to my wants. I am better at shimmying into the role of ertica writer than I am at sliding into the role of communicative girlfriend. I am better equipped to make hard, than I am to become soft. But the skill transfers. I am learning to communicate. The boldness of the sexts I send leak into my outside-of-virtuality world.
What do I value about sexting? The agency, the intimacy, the consent (side note - consent is key here). I value (I crave) the vulnerability, the communication, the poetry. Through sexting I learned the truth of my desires and learned how to communicate those truths. I have recognized a language that allows me to navigate and inhibit my desires. Through sexting, I have found my body deserving of pleasure and a language that names it, that helps me get there.