“Is It Dirty; Does It Seem Dirty; Does It Just Look Dirty”: Let’s Talk About Sexts

Frank O' Hara sexting

I still have every love letter I’ve ever received. All the pen- or pencil-scrawled slips of paper—some still tucked in their long torn open envelopes (one bears the return address “Too Far Away”)—now reside high up on a shelf in my bedroom closet in one of those soft bags that came with my shoes when I once bought really nice shoes. I’ve archived all the emailed poems, even though some of the words are never that far from my mind (you would howl my name because I would never stop/ finding ways of dropping you over the edge and we’d take off/ and scratch out the eyes of the map and but when you blush it is like poison or candy. suspicious/ when you blush your collar bone runs like a blood-red river).

These are the kind of things we all save because these types of communication (even when written with fingers tripping over a keyboard instead of with pen on paper) come from the passionate tradition of W.B. Yeats and Maude Gonne, of James Joyce and Nora Barnacle, and of Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin. This is the type of missive that once inspired Nin to write, “There are two ways to reach me: by way of kisses or by way of the imagination. But there is a hierarchy: the kisses alone don’t work.” No, kisses alone don’t work. Close your eyes, and you could be kissing anyone. But you can’t read with your eyes closed. You have to keep them—and yourself—wide open to take in things like, “I would eat your heart as your eyelids flutter and your mouth opens and you look down your pale body and into my eyes.” Keep your eyes open, and your imagination runs free. You’ve been reached.

And then there’s the texts. Or I guess I should call them sexts. As a means of communication, texting is usually kept separate from (and thought to be lesser than) writing letters, talking on the phone, or even sending emails. Sexts are sent in haste, words are spelled wrong (sometimes by accident, sometimes not), demands are made (send me a pic of your cunt), immediacy is required (send me a pic of your cunt NOW), and lies are told (i’m not wearing any clothes either). Sexting is thought to be “just no fun.” After all, there’s usually little to no sex involved, and the language we use tends to be so blunt that it borders on embarrassing, as we bend our words in much the same way we bend our bodies, trying to get our asses to create that perfect curve in the naked selfie we’re trying to take and send.

But why would we really bother to contort our bodies and our voices for something that might be nothing more than a grammatically questionable masturbation aid if there was nothing more to gain than a fleeting thrill? There are myriad reasons that sexting has acquired such a bad reputation including the (questionable) notion that reliance on the immediacy of technology has meant the severing of person-to-person contact and the idea that sexting is juvenile and amateur and something teens do. But fuck it. These are two of the best parts of sexting. The immediacy is part of the fun; knowing that you can be lying on your couch and suddenly be taken to another place by someone else’s well placed words is more exciting than having to dress up and leave your home and make the whole thing all too real. Reality has its place, and sometimes that place is in sex, but other times? Other times it’s best to just ignore society’s fetishization of the literal and engage in the fantasy. Who cares if you’re wearing your tattered Columbia sweatshirt and hiking socks while you’re texting someone about where exactly he should stick his cock? No one cares, because no one can see you in any way but the way you want to be seen. And it’s nice sometimes (and not a small turn-on) to not be looked at, and to have the sort of out-of-body experience that sexting offers, an experience that always puts you in charge.

Part of the pleasure of sexting is asking for what you want when you want it, as if you were actually naive enough to think that sort of demanding behavior always works in the real world. But it doesn’t have to work in the real world. You’re not in the real world. You can say anything you want because sexting exists in that strange gray area where nothing is real, but everything could be. Sexting isn’t like porn then or like reading a dirty book, because those activities are (usually) solo ones, and there’s no way James Deen or Stoya are coming out of your laptop screen to hold you down or be held down or, really, to do anything. With porn there’s no engagement beyond the one you’re having with the source material. But sexting requires a partner, and it doesn’t matter if this partner is someone you fuck regularly or someone you’ve only ever seen naked on your iPhone screen. Even though the sexts might not exist in a real space, the things you’re writing about could happen. And unlike the sharp pleasure you might get from reading a letter or an email, those things were written in another time. Who knows what the sender is doing by the time you’ve received his words? When you sext, you know that it’s happening right now. You know that someone else is feeling the same things you are right now. You know that you are together in a way that is maybe not as good as if you were physically together but that still offers a sort of stunning intimacy that doesn’t happen all that often.

The beauty in sexting is that you are the only one who can imbue the words you receive with any real meaning. These words aren’t coming from someone’s lips as they bury their hands in your hair. These words come from the technological abyss. Without context, they might feel gross or—even worse—silly. But if well written (and sent by the person from whom you want to hear), sexts leave the abyss and enter your mind and your body. Not dissimilar to all those love letters stuffed in my closet, the best sexts employ language that makes you feel, that makes you blush, that makes you go red, that makes you warm up in the same way your phone does as it vibrates again and again and again. You’ve got a message. Open up.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen


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