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Sexting has become an essential skill during the pandemic

I don’t know if it’s because of all the erotic anime fanfiction I read as a horny teenager, but I consider myself a good sexter. Back when I was still wading in the dating pool, sexting was a pretty big part of my M.O., and I loved the creativity and playfulness it involved. I realize not everyone has the same confidence, though. It makes sense that texting someone your filthiest desires would make a person a little self-conscious. But these days, social distancing has somewhat barred us from what we'd consider regular dating. And with this prolonged "getting-to-know-you" phase, we need to brush up on our sexting skills.

This pandemic is making us take sexting more seriously, Brianna Rader, founder and CEO of sexual wellness company Juicebox, tells me. All this sexting time, in turn, can help us have richer, more nuanced conversations about sex — including what we want and don’t want — and expand our horizons for what it can look like once we can hook up again.

Interest in sexting seems to have risen since shelter-in-place orders took effect across the country, at least according to data on users of Slutbot — essentially, a bot you sext with — developed by Juicebox. It delivers interactive, choose-your-own-adventure stories, including LGBTQ variations, over text. Slutbot has seen around a 60% growth in new users since many of us began quarantining in March, and a three- to five-fold increase in usage, Rader says.

She cites a couple of reasons for this. For starters, social distancing has made more of us lonely and yearning not only for connection, but intimacy, something we might find more easily from sexting Slutbot, which responds to us and can feel like sexting a person, than watching porn.

Many also sign up for Slutbot to become better sexters, Rader says; the bot gives them the language and confidence to share their desires with a partner. While sexting’s been around for a while, it’s an especially important skill now, whether we’re dating around or in a long-term relationship but quarantining separately from bae. It can be a way to escalate and sustain the relationship while we’re apart.

All this sexting could make for better sex and dating once we emerge from the pandemic. “You’re allowing yourself to lay the groundwork when you meet this person in real life,” Rader says. By then, you’ll have already covered crucial ground, including consent, and what each of you like and don’t like, but through the fun, flirty medium of sexting. Hopefully “it will make people more confident about sharing their desires” with their partners, she says.

She also hopes it’ll broaden all our ideas of what sex entails. “I think this is something that queer communities do very well because we don’t have a script to follow for what sex is supposed to be,” says Rader, who identifies as queer. She points to queer women as an example — one might ask the other during a date what they like in bed, or whether they want oral sex or to use a strap-on. “We have these conversations,” she says, whereas straight people typically head right to pee-in-vee.

Sexting can be a way for those of us in the straight community to take a cue from queer communities, allowing us to have similar conversations so we can expand our horizons and explore different types of pleasure. Rader likens it to how trying new recipes can broaden our palates and make eating more enjoyable, beyond just a means of survival. “Sadly, a lot people look at sex like that…. ‘I got off, and that’s good enough.’”

It's important to note though, queer sex has no default (as in, penis in vagina), so queer people have historically had to have more frank conversations about what kind of sex they want to have. And that, in turn, creates a communication skill everyone can learn from, regardless of where they fall on the sexuality spectrum

Before you start sexting up a storm, Rader recommends ensuring that you and your partner are on the same page. Ask how they feel about sexting, and how they feel about nudes, rather than automatically lumping nudes under sexting. (In other words, don’t assume they’ll be down with a dick pic mid-sext sesh.) Also, ask if they’d prefer planned or surprise sexts.

Secondly, escalate with care, Rader says. “Is the tone playful and sweet, or super filthy?” Super filthy is totally fine, but remember to tiptoe toward it, similar to how you’d start with kissing and foreplay, rather than cutting straight to sex. And remember that “you need to reveal intimate aspects of yourself to build trust,” rather than always demanding your partner to send more sexts.

Give your partner a heads up if you anticipate a long delay, she adds. Remember, they’re being vulnerable with you, so leaving them on read for hours can cause anxiety and hurt feelings. Likewise, being overly coy isn’t hot — it’s manipulative and confusing. Because your partner can’t see you smile or blush, “it’s really important to be extra communicative and extra gracious in your response.” If they send you a gorgeous selfie, don’t just respond with a heart emoji.

If you’re stuck on what to sext, Rader suggests the formula developed by Dan Savage, who writes the sex and relationship advice column, Savage Love. You could describe what you’re about to do (“I’d love to kiss your neck), what you’re doing and what it feels like (“It feels so good how you’re grabbing my hip”), or what you just did (“I love the way your legs shook under me" — and now excuse me while I take a cold shower).

Sexting while under quarantine may feel far from an ideal scenario. But, as Rader notes, we can use it as an opportunity to learn more about what we want, build the confidence to ask for it, and learn to be more intentional with our time and actions, rather than just going through the motions. That’s wisdom all of us can use, in and out of the sack.