I’m single and am not new to dating apps, but pre-COVID, I used them mostly as a way to meet people. As in, to eventually meet in person so we could take the digital flirtation into an IRL relationship (or decide to cut it off completely). Of course, the pandemic changed that course of action, and I’m keeping an open mind about how I can connect with people I’m romantically interested in. I’ve warmed up to the idea of a video date (we each make our own dinner, pour our own wine, cheers at the computer screen), but I’m having trouble adjusting to the ways I can safely be intimate with someone new right now. I’m not ready for Zoom sex, and I don’t super love the idea of sexting, but I feel like it’s my best bet. Should I try to get excited about it and buy in? If so, how?
It sounds like you’re on the right track for finding ways to adjust to this “new normal” of sex during the time of COVID-19 by exploring your boundaries with an open mind. You’ve already identified some of your hard no’s (like virtual sex) but are still exploring certain possibilities that go beyond your comfort zone (like a virtual date). So, do take a moment to pride yourself about how thoughtful you’re being about navigating this new territory, because it’s not easy to do.
Next, let’s talk about sexting, in particular, since you’re not sure about how to proceed (or, rather, if you should proceed). I suggest you make a pros and cons of sexting list in order to help you determine if you don’t love the idea because it really is a hard boundary for you or more so because you’ve never been in a position in which you feel like sexting might be necessary (like, say, navigating social distancing during a pandemic).
To inspire your pros and cons of sexting list, here you can find some of my favorite “pros” about sexting:
1. It’s physically safe. At this particular point in time, that’s obviously important. By sticking to sexting, you’re doing your part to social distance and stop the spread of COVID-19. But even in pre-pandemic times, sexting has always been a great way to test the intimate waters with someone new without putting yourself in a physical situation that opens you up to the risk of harm. (Of course, harm is possible to both experience and inflict virtually, but more on that in a sec.) By using sexting as the main form of connection, your physical body can be in your cocoon in a moment of intimacy, and you can shut the virtual door any time.
2. It’s easier to state your boundaries. Telling someone what feels comfy, safe, and fun to you can be way easier to do over text than in person, especially if you don’t know each other so well. There is a certain level of anonymity involved in texting conversations that can help us to be our bravest selves. There’s nothing wrong with taking full advantage of that safety net.
3. Sexting gives you ample room to explore your desires. Since you’re typing everything out via text, everyone gets a moment to collect their thoughts and to really think about what they’re saying. (Honestly, we should all try to take a similar beat when we set all boundaries IRL, but I digress.) This also naturally allows for increased exploration of your fantasies. For instance, maybe you think you could be into bondage play, but you feel a little shy about actually getting out the handcuffs. With sexting, you can put some emojis and creative word choice to good use to test the waters.
Now, for the potential red flags (or cons) to keep in mind:
1. The issue of trust. Trust can be a big issue with virtual sex of any kind, including sexting, and especially with someone you don’t know so well. Will they screenshot your sexts? If you send a picture, will they save it? (Pro tip: Snapchat’s messages and photos disappear, and you get a notification if someone screenshots—but even that’s not a fully preventative measure.)
2. The issue of emotional safety. Because, of course, even when you’re not in a person’s physical company, you’re liable to feel unsafe or unheard based on the way they communicate and/or respond to you. All of those things, frankly, suck.
Again, this is my list of sexting pros and cons, and it may look different than your list. But regardless, it’s a good idea to spell out your concerns with a potential sexting partner before you dive into getting your iMessage freak on while you’re only halfway self-assured at best. (And if you’re nervous about broaching the topic, keep in mind that anyone who isn’t willing to chat through your safety concerns doesn’t deserve to hear (read?) you wax poetic on all things erotic anyway.)
If after weighing the pros and cons of sexting, you decide it’s not for you, try these 4 other intimate-from-afar options.
If the risks of sexting outweigh the potential benefits on your list, or it simply doesn’t sound like a good time to you, not to worry. There are other ways to explore intimacy across distances—during the pandemic or other times.
1. Share a favorite erotic story. Sharing racy words that aren’t your own can feel a little less vulnerable in practice than sexting, but in effect still provides you the chance to explore intimacy and share your desires. Reading erotica, from a site like Dispea, may also help you quell some fears of rejection you may harbor surrounding a sexting habit. For instance, if someone isn’t into the erotica you shared, remember, it’s just a story—it’s not you!
2. Set up a sexy movie date. Similar to your virtual wine and cheese night, you can set up a virtual movie night with Netflix Party and pick a film with a steamy scene. Referencing what you found hot about what happened in the movie is another gentle way to introduce sex into the conversation.
3. Play a game. Never Have I Ever or 20 Questions are great, silly options that can still prompt some seriously fun and flirty stories—without overtly sexting or sending pictures.
4. Make a yes/no/maybe list together. This could be another way to test the waters in general with a new partner, plus gauge each other’s boundaries when it comes to sexual preferences. This list from Scarlateen has a whole non-physical section, which you can re-create in order to address both of your IRL fantasies and also the virtual sex avenues that feel good to each of you.
No matter where you land after creating your pros and cons of sexting list, remember that your boundaries are valid no matter what. You deserve to explore intimacy in a way that feels safe to you, and with a partner who will be empathetic while you’re navigating your preferences.
As CEO of Dame Products, Alexandra Fine translates the nuances of our sexualities into human-friendly toys for sex and sexual wellness products. A lifelong student of sexual health, Alexandra earned her master’s in clinical psychology with a concentration in sex therapy from Columbia University. In founding Dame Products, she intends to start necessary conversations, to listen rather than assume, and to create products that enhance intimacy.