For the past week or so, I’ve been coming home from work every day, changing my clothes and taking a selfie that is mostly boobs for a man who slid into my DMs on Twitter last month. He’s never asked for anything even vaguely explicit, and because I sense he isn’t a veteran sexter, I haven’t gone full nipple on him, although I will, if this keeps up. Tim (we’ll call him Tim) is just a nice, funny guy who liked my jokes and thought I was cute, and I decided he was a good candidate to look at my tits.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when I first texted a picture of my partially naked body to a guy, but I’m guessing it was before it was technically legal for him to view it. Camera phones first became available my senior year of high school, and it was off to the races for me more or less immediately. Sexting and I have grown up together, and unlike most of the hobbies I had at 17, it’s still a regular feature of my social life. (Thankfully, the bad DIY punk shows that also populated my adolescence no longer are.)
Because the 6 o’clock news is always woefully behind when it comes to the kinds of trouble kids these days are getting into, it took several years for the moral outrage around teen sexting to hit a critical mass, and by then, I was out of college and making perfectly legal a la carte softcore for whichever man happened to be in my crosshairs. It hasn’t figured into all my romantic entanglements in the intervening decade-plus since I started, but it has colored a lot of them; for some, it’s been nearly the entire thing.
Sexting is now, of course, fairly commonplace in traditional romantic relationships (even if people are still shy about it), but it’s always been the most useful to me in the spaces between them. Although the rewards of dating are potentially high, the process of getting to those rewards is stressful and time-consuming. Sexting with a guy from OkCupid who messaged you during a three-day trip to New York and has already left, on the other hand, is incredibly low-stakes. It’s the romantic equivalent of eating a spoonful of chocolate cake frosting, straight out of the container. You get the frisson of sexual novelty and romantic affirmation with none of the cleanup.
The gray areas in dating have always been the places that torment me the most; I don’t like relying on a man’s ability to navigate deftly in emotional spaces, and I almost always feel relief when we exit them entirely, even if that means we’ve broken up, and even if he was someone I really liked. Sexting, on the other hand, feels like a space almost entirely within my control. I can duck in and out of it when I want to, reveal only what I want seen at any given time and go right back to what I was doing afterward. In a crowded life, it takes up minimal space and still provides some (although, admittedly, not all) of the rewards previously reserved for much more draining pursuits.
In my dozen years of sexting, I’ve found that men are almost always happy to agree to whatever terms I feel like setting for our interactions and accept whatever I’ll give them. When they ask for something I don’t want to provide, they’re generally respectful of my refusals, and even if they aren’t, there’s no threat of physical consequences like there is when you’re trying to get similar sexual affirmation in person from a hastily chosen Tinder match. Sexting may often be portrayed as a thing young women are pressured into (most recently, in Nancy Jo Sales’ just-released book about teen girls and social media), but my experiences have always been the complete opposite: it’s a kind of sex where I’m always in the driver’s seat and telling a man to go fuck himself is so much less fraught.
That’s not to say that sexting is without stakes; plenty of women who have had their nudes posted online by tantrum-throwing man-baby exes can attest to that. I work in a creative industry where female nudity isn’t scandalous, though, so revenge porn feels like a manageable risk, of all the sexual risks women take every day in order to live their lives. Men, after all, have been finding ways to ruin women’s fun for millennia, and I refuse to plan every part of my sexual life around their potential shit fits. Post that picture somewhere, dude. I fucking dare you. And tag me in it, because my tits look great.