The rise of smartphones with great cameras is one of many modern innovations that only reinforced an enduring fact of human existence: We’re all horny. Heck, innovation itself is horny — for a long time, the prevailing wisdom dictated that new tech would succeed as soon as someone figured out how to make it sexy. It’s no wonder the devices we use for sending work emails or keeping up with relatives are also used to indulge our basest desires.
Sexting is a cultural constant now, or so it seems. Here on Lifehacker, you can find guides to taking your best nudes, tips on what to do if your nudes leak, and how to hide the sensitive content on your phone. It seems like everyone is doing it, but if you’re concerned you’re not doing it enough — or doing it too much — don’t worry: Sexting is mainstream enough that it’s being studied — again, everything is horny, even academia. So here’s what the science can tell you about what your sexting (or lack thereof) means for your relationships.
There are four distinct groups of sexters
A 2018 study by Galovan, et al revealed most sexters fall into one of four distinct categories, so if you’re concerned you rely too much on wordy descriptions and not enough on showing-not-telling by way of a front-facing camera, chill out. And if you’re worried because you don’t sex while everyone else seemingly does, chill out harder: Of the 615 Americans and Canadians in committed relationships studied by the researchers, 71.5% didn’t sext at all (“non-sexters”). From there, 14.5% were “words-only” sexters, 8.5% were “frequent” sexters,” and 5.5% were “hyper-sexters.”
Whether you’re sexting a ton or none at all, you belong to a sizable cohort of like-minded folks. What’s really important is finding a partner who falls into a similar category as you, whatever that may be.
Sexting can be good for your relationship
When it comes to sexting in committed partnership, the study found that both frequent and hyper-sexters reported the same general relationship satisfaction as non-sexsters and their word-only peers, but indicated more sexual satisfaction than those two groups.
“That’s just one study,” cautioned Dr. Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist and therapist who has reviewed and written about the findings. Still, she said, “Maybe — just maybe — it’s because these couples are more open about [their] sexuality.”
There is one problem, though: More prolific sexters, she noted, “are also more likely to get involved in infidelity-related behaviour on social media, so it’s a mixed bag.”
If you and your boo are swapping pics and dirty messages constantly, it’s important to be open and communicative about your boundaries and expectations when it comes to their (and your) behaviour — both with you and with others.
Be careful, of course
It all sounds great — you have a smartphone with a camera, and sexting can enhance your overall sexual satisfaction. But remember: A big majority of those studied rarely, if ever, engaged in this activity. There are drawbacks that hold people back, and they’re worth considering.
“If you’re in a committed relationship, people often do things via text that they don’t have the courage to do when they’re in person,” Greenberg said, pointing to another revelation from the study: Sexters reported not liking their partner to look at their phones. If something is ultimately going to drive a wedge in your trust, it might not be worth pursuing, even if it seems like everyone is doing it. The most important thing, she reiterated, is to be open and communicative.
“It could be ok for some couples, but [not] for other couples,” Greenberg said.
Talk to your partner before jumping in
Greenberg Stressed the importance of trust in any sexting relationship, noting the risks in sending explicit messages or photos to someone you aren’t in a committed relationship with.
Still, people do it all the time. (Remember: Everyone is horny.) But if you’re going to send a sexy snap, the least you can do is ask first, no matter whom it’s for. Get consent and ensure you’re both on the same page. In a more committed relationship, be open with your partner about what you want — or don’t want — when it comes to your SMS foreplay. If you want more sexting, ask for it: “I think it would be so sexy if you sent me a naughty picture while I’m running errands. Do you want to try to surprise me?”
If you do not want that kind of content, be clear about that, too. (“Hey, when I’m at work, I’m not really in the right mindset for that kind of thing. Can we reserve intimate time for when we’re alone together?”) You can also make it known you do not enjoy sexting at all, at any time, and would prefer to strengthen your sexual connection in other ways.
If your partner isn’t into what you’re into, take it all into consideration. Talk it through. Perhaps you are sexually incompatible — and that’s a larger conversation. So have it — don’t go behind their back and sext others. It’s better to break up or find a middle ground together than to be another horny, cheating statistic.
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