With the Weinergate scandal of New York Democrat congressman Anthony Weiner in full view, the question of sexting comes back into the spotlight. What is sexting? What is the objective of sexting? Is sexting a form of cheating? What you know – and don’t know – about sexting can hurt you or a loved one. You should know whether to sext or not to sext.
Note: For the purposes of this article, I will consistently refer to the sender of a sext as “he,” and the recipient as “she”, as well as the partner of a sender as a “she”. When it comes to sexting, however, you should know that these gender references can be both. The gender references in this blog post are not meant to be gender exclusive.
What is sexting?
According to Wikipedia, “Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs, primarily between mobile phones. The term was first popularized around 2005, and is a portmanteau of sex and texting, where the latter is meant in the wide sense of sending a text possibly with images.” While we might think of sexting as mostly text messages, it also includes sexually explicit photos, usually of the sender, and they are often at the request of a willing recipient. Many teen bullying activities have occurred after teen girls sent pictures of themselves to their boyfriends, only to have those pictures circulated on the Internet to humiliate them. While sexting could be seen as a powerful way to connect two lovers together, it can also be misused when those same texts or pictures are discovered outside of its intended destination.
Sexting has moved to the center of conversation concerning its pivital part in undoing the trust in monogamous and exclusive relationships. While one could argue that technically there is no violation of the physical exclusivity of a relationship, it cannot be effectively argued that sexting won’t negatively impact the emotional exclusivity of a monogamous relationship, and even within an open relationship, sexting can spark jealousy and fear when the sender’s partner sees the excitement of her partner (or his coverup for his behavior) as it is sent to another recipient while questioning what it might mean for herself. In other words, sexting can be seen as an emotional affair and emotional cheating when it is kept as a secret from a primary partner in any kind of relationship.
Why Did That Guy Send A Picture Of His Crotch?
Why do guys send crotch shots anyways? In an article posted by msnbc.com, writer Bill Briggs writes about how some men send pictures of their genitals to women in hopes of sexually arousing the recipient. In a F2F situation, an unclothed person would be able to see on the face of the viewer if he was attractive to her. Unlike F2F contact, the sexting sender must ask the recipient if she is aroused, if she “wants” him sexually, or if she finds him attractive. The risk involved in sexting can make the experience that much more exciting, and even more challenging.
There is a difference between a sender who zips a photograph of his genitals in a private message to a person that he knows and has a relationship with, and the same sender who zips the same photograph to one or more individuals who he has never met or has never known in an intimate way. Exhibitionists gain great pleasure, boosts to the self-esteem, and sexual arousal by the exposure of their naked bodies and/or genitals to people with whom they have little or no relational connection. However, sexting may allow for exhibitionists to develop tolerable connections that can be dissolved or denied if the recipient is repulsed. For example, if someone like Congressman Weiner sent his sexts and images to a variety of women with whom he had never met nor had any relationship with at all, it is possible that he is not a sexual predator nor a womanizer looking for an affair; instead, he may be an exhibitionist. If I had a client who brought these concerns to me (i.e. flashing with sexts to strangers, shame, not knowing why he did it, but not necessarily compulsivity), I would find it necessary to explore the person’s history with exhibitionism.
Wait, Did You Say Exhibitionism?
I bring up the topic of exhibitionism because many of us have a natural level of healthy narcissism that helps us have a positive self-concept of ourselves, and we act out that exhibitionism in small ways and at lower levels than the man in the overcoat who exposes himself to unsuspecting female victims. Our exhibitionism may be in the form of clothing, shoes, eccentric and unusual hairstyles and makeup, or in the way we dance and move. When a man sexts his lewd photo, he may be the more common person who hopes his recipient (known) will be aroused, or he may be the more uncommon person who finds it erotic to send his photo to his recipient (unknown) for his own arousal. I tend to think of most cases of sexting involving images as a type of hi-tech “flashing”, and not the more violating indecent exposure that can involve prosecution.
Exhibitionism does not have to be compulsive in nature. There are many forms of exhibitionism that has entered the word of both performance and still art that calls for a connection between the artist and the viewer, yet with a more challenging artistic connection than your common Playboy or Hustler magazine. To be clear, I am not saying that Congressman Weiner is an exhibitionist. What I am saying is that not all cases that appear to be womanizing behavior is the “bad boy” behavior that fills our tabloids. Exhibitionism as an art form isn’t a crime, and neither are the sexts sent by the Weiner.
Sexting Means Having To Say You’re Sorry
While developing the sexual connection between people is critical for a deep and lasting relationship, sexting has enough pitfalls that could accompany it that I do not encourage people to do it. If you decide to have pictures of yourself taken in the nude, carefully control where you save and store those photos:
* Store any explicit photos of yourself or your loved one off your computer and mobile devices.
* Do not use Social Media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to send sexts or photos, even if you think you’re sending private messages.
* Do not give in to the pressure of the moment when your lover asks for a photo by SMS, email, or through a Social Media platform. Even if these are secure, your sense of security will erode if your relationship status changes. If you wish to give your partner or spouse a photo, place that photo in a frame with a request that it remain private. It is much more difficult for a vindictive partner to reproduce or share that photo if it is not in digital form, and is encased in a frame.
*Before you send a sext, think about how you might feel if your sext was discovered by someone other than the intended recipient. Will it hurt your partner? Could your partner hurt you with it if something were to happen to your relationship? Would you feel comfortable if it was plastered on a giant billboard by the freeway with your name on it?
If your sexts are not welcomed, you will need to prepare to apologize. Weiner won’t likely be reprimanded for sexting, but for either using tax paper money, or for the cover up of his behavior. [Editor’s note: while some are calling for Weiner’s resignation, he has chosen to take a leave of absence for treatment of an undisclosed disorder at the time of this writing.] Likewise, you can’t lose your job for something you did on personal time, but if your behavior is discovered, you could find yourself having a difficult time climbing the ladder of success, even if everyone around you has sore thumbs from sexting.
It’s Just Words, Isn’t It?
I’m not arguing that we clean up every word and conversation. I happen to believe that the best romantic relationships are made strong by a mindset that includes making love to your partner all day long: kisses, thoughtful notes and texts, emails, phone calls, touches, and other gestures. Sexting could be a part of that, but you need to be careful. Assuming that your words could be read by a colleague, or your partner’s phone could be stolen, how would you feel if your racy texts were read by and shared by someone else?
Both my personal and professional position on sexting is to abstain. We have far too many other creative and effective ways of letting our partners know how much we want them than to reach for our iPhone’s and take a crotch shot, or send our regular photos with titillating speech we’d be ashamed to repeat in front of our peers. While the occasional celebrity gets temporarily reprimanded for “bad behavior”, many of us have professional careers and reputations that are not easily repaired if we chose to send sexually suggestive pictures of ourselves to others.