How To Practice Safe Sext

Expert-backed ground rules for crafting a message that strengthens intimacy.

The age of texting has paved the way for new forms of flirty communication. This technology can be used for good—like texting the dirty details of what you want to do to your significant other once he gets home, or sending a string of suggestive emojis. It can also get ugly—like getting an unsolicited dick pic from a guy on a dating app you haven’t even met yet (and hopefully never will).

All of the above fall under the umbrella that’s become known as “sexting.” It’s a term that has actually been added to the dictionary (good looking out, Merriam-Webster) to pertain to sending sexually explicit messages and photographs. But the definition is vague on the parameters. Not to mention, is this even beneficial for your relationship? Or is it just something the kids are doing on Tinder these days? If you’re in a LTR, is it weird to start sexting with your S.O. now? Can it actually improve your sex life, IRL? Does it have the potential to be detrimental to your relationship, especially when you’re dating someone new?

To establish some sexting ground rules, we asked a few psychologists to weigh in on how to practice safe sext—regardless of what stage your relationship is in.

Sexting Rules For Your New Relationship

On the one hand, sexting with a new boo can feel like just another first that the two of you have yet to experience together—which makes it less of an awkward intro into your relationship than for the long-time lovers. But marriage therapist Carrie Krawiec said to proceed with caution when introducing this into a relationship that’s fresh.

“An important thing to keep in mind is people differ in what kind of safety in the environment helps them feel open to the vulnerability required for intimacy,” she explained. “Men tend to feel more open emotionally when they feel accepted sexually. Women tend to feel more willing to be open sexually when they feel safe emotionally. There is a little teeter-totter of balance that needs to happen between each partner so each feels safe, respected so that intimacy of both kinds can flourish. Too much intimacy early on may disrupt the balance, and create unreasonable expectations long term.”

Not to mention, if the two of you haven’t had the awkward, but extremely necessary, “what are we?” conversation yet, sexting without establishing the nature of your relationship can create more confusion and anxiety than it does good bedroom vibes.

“Early in relationships, there hasn’t been time to develop a shared understanding of expectations,” said Krawiec. “One may consider the relationship just a booty call and another may consider it something else. Likewise, one may see sexting as a casual act and the other may see it as an intrusion. It takes time to learn from one another what yourself and the other person expects.”

There are positive effects of sexting in the early stages of a relationship, but just like regular sex, it all depends on your partner’s consent.

A study from Drexel University found that sexting was linked to higher relationship satisfaction for people in less committed relationships,” said psychologist Dr. Rachel Needle. Dr. Needle recommends testing the waters with some milder flirty texts to gauge interest and work up to it. “Take it slow at the beginning of a relationship,” she said. “You want to make sure you fully trust someone before beginning to sext. Perhaps begin with some flirty talk and work up to the sexting as your relationship progresses.”

Sexting Rules For A More Mature Relationship

If you’ve been with your partner for a solid amount of time, there’s likely not a lot left that the two of you haven’t explored. Could adding sexting to both your routines be helpful? Weird? A mix of both? According to Krawiec, it all depends on the introduction process.

Developing intimacy (of either kind sexual or emotional) is a bit like the egg toss game we play as children,” she said. “We start toe to toe with small, gentle tosses to one another and then as we get more comfortable and more in sync we take bigger risks. If we throw something when the other person is not paying attention, ‘out of left field,’ distracted, too hard/fast or different than what is normal, then it may get missed.”

The same can be said for that first sext you send. “Be sure to be gentle, safe and give your partner warning,” she said. “Start with, ‘I’ve been thinking about trying something new, tell me what you think.'”

What if they’re not into it?

“You may want to start sexting but your partner isn’t comfortable. So start smaller. Instead of a full nude picture consider sending a picture of an item of lingerie (it doesn’t even have to be on) or a picture of the shower, backseat of car, or some other location that spikes interest.”

How can sexting help long-time love birds, once it’s introduced the right way? In a relationship that’s further down the line, the two of you likely have a set of commitments that keep you away from each other for a good amount of time—whether both of your careers are in full swing, you’re raising kids, or a combination of the two. Krawiec said that sexting can help keep your sexual connection strong even while the two of you are busy with all those not-so-sexy responsibilities. “Sexting can be a means to engage in sexual activity when you really cannot actually engage in the moment because you are preoccupied with work, chores or parenting,” she said. “It conveys, ‘I am thinking about you, I am attracted to you,’ during a time when people often don’t feel attractive or well thought of in the humdrum of life..”

A note of caution for long-term lovers: Just like in any relationship, sexting success depends on whether or not both parties get enjoyment and satisfaction from the activity. According to psychologist Dr. Wyatt Fisher, sexting can end up hurting your relationship if one party is sucking it up to make the other happy, without getting their needs met in return.

“If the woman is sexting to meet the man’s sexual needs but the man is not sensitively reciprocating emotionally to meet her needs, then eventually she’s going to feel frustrated, objectified, and used just for her body,” he said. “The best approach would be for the man to initiate meeting the woman’s needs for affection and emotional closeness first and foremost. In turn, this sets up a dynamic for the woman to naturally desire to love her man sexually in return—and sexting could be an extension of that.”  

Also, make sure both of you are being who you are in your sexts IRL. Sending a detailed sext that explicitly talks about all the wild and dirty things you want to do to your partner, and then offering up some vanilla missionary is going to cause some issues.

“Being behind a screen can give people more courage,” said psychotherapist Dr. Kelley Kitley, L.C.S.W. “Being vulnerable in person and unsure of how someone is going to receive your dirty talk can be more difficult. Try to be consistent with who you are in person and who you are ‘virtually.’ What can be detrimental in a relationship is if there is inconsistency in the behavior in person vs. text, it can send mixed messages.”

How To Become A Master Sexter

So, you’ve read up on the pros and cons, and understand all the benefits and pitfalls that come with sexting as it relates to your relationship. Now what? Psychotherapist Dr. Tina B. Tessina has a few suggestions for how to make sure your sext is well received:

  • Work from a memory of your sex when you are together, so it doesn’t feel strange.
  • Be careful you’re not just doing it by yourself (that’s masturbating). Keep the conversation going back and forth by saying something, then asking how your partner feels about it, to keep both of you involved and at similar places.
  • Use your five senses—text to your partner about what you are seeing in your imagination, what you’re hearing, how you feel emotionally and physically, and what you remember about how sex with your partner tastes and smells.

Okay but, what the hell should a solid sext actually say? Luckily, there’s a class for that. Thrillist sex and dating writer Gigi Engle created a foolproof course to school sexting beginners on how to master the artform—in the name of inciting more orgasms everywhere.

“People have trouble sexting because they have a difficult time being embarrassed,” said Engle. “Sending something salacious is always a risk. We find ourselves asking, What if he hates this? What if she thinks I’m creepy? What if this was too much? And so, instead of going forth and pushing our personal boundaries, we just avoid it or, if we do sext, are very cautious about.”

And then there’s the whole process of crafting a proper sext that people get hung up on. “I also think a lot of apprehension and confusion comes from not having enough material,” she says. “How many times can you say, pull my hair and make me your slut, you know?”

So, what will you learn in Sexting 101? “The goal is to teach people to be comfortable enough with themselves to take risks with sexting,” said Engle. “Sexting should be fun! It’s not this serious, apocalyptic thing. If you’re in a class, surrounded by positive thinking, like minded people (and wine, of course) it doesn’t feel so scary. Suddenly, you are in a room with people who have the exact same problem you do and I think that is very comforting. In my class you’ll also learn the power of your words and how sexy they can make you feel. You start by identifying the ‘type’ of sexter you are and working within the boundaries that feel comfortable for you. We learn about the power of adjectives and how they more you use, the more raunchy a sext can be. Once you are armed with a kinky thesaurus and ten different words for vagina, you are reeling and ready to go.”



How I Learned to Sext

5 Relationship Text Hacks Backed by Behavioral Experts

The Ground Rules for Effective Communication in Romantic Relationships