‘Sexting is dangerous. Your pictures could leak onto the internet and then your life is over.’

That's the general sexting rhetoric that’s been on repeat since what feels like the very invention of the smartphone. And it’s very valid.

So, always approach sexting with caution and within an environment defined by trust. But this medium of communicating sexual desires has progressed way beyond the eggplant or the peach emoji.

Google ‘sexting’ and you are sent straight to guides upon guides on how to nail the perfect sext; or lists of sexting apps — all custom-curated in this supply and demand economy.

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And with the proliferation of disappearing messages on social media platforms like Instagram (once opened, images disappear), sexting is not just guys sending women unwelcome pics (DPs) anymore.

Who does it and why?

‘Send nudes’ forms part of the millennial zeitgeist. Yet, there is a silence, and a shame surrounding this topic. The question is, are we ashamed that we participate in it, we enjoy it, or that we participate in it and enjoy it as women? I think the latter. 

The Guardian notes that sexting is not exclusively done as a once-off between people who are just interested in online sex play, nor is it a one-way exchange with men as the initiators. Women are also interested, and active.

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“It makes me feel quite powerful. It’s rarely about sending naked pics. It’s much more about the narrative. Building and building, setting the scene of what we might do later when we see each other,” says Capetonian Sophie* who casually hooks up with a guy she dated in the past.

While Pretorian Lindiwe*, who has been in a relationship for 4 years says, “I sometimes send him a sexy picture when he’s at work. We also flirt and talk throughout the day on WhatsApp.”

Sonti is a 34-year-old woman from Roodeport, Joburg and her boyfriend of 6 years is currently living in Port Elizabeth. "There is no way our relationship would have survived without sexting. It's how we connect intimately because we only see each other every two months," she says. Her partner is very traditional and was reluctant at first.

"I had to talk to him about it after I noticed that every time we saw each other initiating sex would be difficult. We would be distant and shy due to the long breaks between sexual encounters. He now enjoys it more than I do and agrees that sexting saved our relationship," she says.

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A 2016 study on sexting found that gender had no impact when it comes to engaging in sexting. Though males were more likely to start the flow of messages, propositioning sexual activity, two-thirds of respondents sexted for non-sexual reasons.

Sexting can be a catalyst for foreplay for sexual behaviours that happens much later, or it can validate a partner in a sense reassuring them that you are still into them.

Some people sext as a favour — i.e. with the expectation that the favour will be returned later in a non-sexual way, for example, an expensive gift or date.

And we don’t just sext to satisfy a request of the recipient, says this 2019 study on motivations for sexting. It found that women were twice as likely as men to send nudes or dirty messages to boost their own confidence.

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When they are ‘feeling themselves’ they assert their sexual agency by taking the lead, digitally Like all our behaviours, communication has become inextricably linked with technology.

And sexting is just another way to communicate our sexual desires to each other. Maybe back in 2008, we wrote cute notes on each other’s Facebook walls, before that, love poems or love letters. Today, we sext.

When you google ‘couples sexting’ you’ll find countless articles on how sexting can be used as a tool to improve your marriage. And because sex is so incredibly nuanced, communicating our desires to our partner — be it a casual or long-term relationship — is crucial.

It doesn’t have to be silenced anymore, and ‘sexting’ doesn’t have to be a dirty word. This is just another communication tool within many pairings. And while a love letter sounds nice, an instant message is just the way we communicate now.

Do you sext? How do you feel about this form of communication? Share your thoughts with us here.

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