I got my first mobile phone when I was 22 – and not by choice. I spent the last few months of my gap year between Oxford and Durham running the summer social programme at a language school; among other things, my role involved coordinating day trips, leading activities around Oxford, and contacting host families, so it was no surprise when my boss insisted on giving me a Samsung flip-phone to use for all official business.
Of course this was mid-2003 – as far as I was concerned, there wasn’t much else I could use it for. Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist, nor did mobile Email, IM functionality, live video streaming, and all the other apps we now take for granted. Web browsing was much quicker on an actual PC, my car stereo and bedroom HiFi played all the music I needed, and if I wanted to take a photo, I just used my camera. My new toy meant that I could text my friends, rather than calling them from a landline, but in those first few weeks, that was about the limit of its value.
And then I met someone.
I’ve written about that relationship several times over the years. The whirlwind romance of it. The unfortunate timing (she was an Oxford student back home in the countryside for the uni holidays, I was working in Oxford but moving up north just before she returned), the hot sex, the heartbreak, and the impact it had on me over the next couple of years. We were only together for 10 months, but J remains one of the most significant partners I’ve had, largely because of everything our relationship taught me about love, vulnerability, and ultimately myself.
Before all that though, there were just two people on a dating site, bored and horny in the middle of summer. Two people whose light, flirty opening exchanges rapidly evolved into long, late-night chats over MSN Messenger…and indescribably filthy sexting.
We knew after the first dozen messages that we wanted to meet – that there was a connection of some kind – but I was working unsociable hours, and even though her parents lived less than an hour from Oxford, it was a fortnight before she’d have an opportunity to head into town for the evening. Plenty of people would have you believe that once we’d fixed a date, that should have been that: ease off on the long text chats, keep expectations reasonable, and definitely don’t start talking about sex before meeting face-to-face.
But we were young – 22 and 19 – and caught up in that rare feeling of immediate, instinctive attraction. I liked the look of her, sure, but it was her writing that really got its hooks into me; her voice, her wit, her confidence, and above all her willingness to take conversations wherever they naturally wanted to go, rather than guiding them towards somewhere safe or neutral.
I can still vividly recall some of those conversations now. Stumbling out of my parents’ conservatory at 4 in the morning after first saying good night some time around 1. Bonding over our relative lack of sexual experience, and nervously offering up our hottest fantasies to each other, even though they were mostly half-formed and hypothetical at that point. Crafting those fantasies into specific scenarios, then playing them out together, fingers furiously tapping the keyboard until everything got too much and they were needed elsewhere instead…
Again, this was 2003! No Skype, no picture messaging, no webcams – not in the EA household, anyway. I had the photos from her dating profile, but that was it. The rest was all words. Before I’d even heard the term, I got a crash course in sexting without a dick pic or cum shot in sight, and from a stranger to boot. We turned each other on, got each other off, and hit repeat the next night. The connection we built never felt forced or unnatural, even though we’d never laid eyes on each other – instead, it was fluid, easy, and most of all incredibly good fun. For two whole weeks my new, unwanted mobile phone never left my sight. Turns out I did have a use for it after all.
By the time our date rolled round, the anticipation was almost unbearable. We met in Oxford’s oldest pub, next to her current and my former college; drank cocktails in a cute little bar on Little Clarendon Street; chatted, laughed, snuck appreciative glances and quick, exploratory kisses; and all the while, we silently vibrated with a need we both knew wouldn’t (and didn’t) remain in check for more than a couple of hours.
Because that’s how anticipation works. That’s how lust works – for me, at least. I’ve written about this before, but lemme say it again here:
Sexting. Doesn’t. Kill. Mystery.
Nor does sexting blunt desire – if anything, it can sharpen it. J and I wanted each other more (and more urgently) that night than we would’ve done without the long, sticky build-up; and if we hadn’t fancied each other in person – if the physical chemistry hadn’t matched the heat we’d generated online – that would’ve been the same with or without the pre-date sexting. We’d have had a nice evening and gone our separate ways, still all the richer for those long summer nights of virtual fun.
As it was, we jumped each other pretty much the minute we left the bar, without any awkwardness or uncertainty over what exactly we wanted. That was no coincidence. When it’s done right (and yes, alongside consent, competence is key – “hey, u horny?” is nobody’s idea of a good time), a filthy text chat is the perfect way to feel out your base level of sexual compatibility. People reveal a lot about themselves in the way they talk about sex, and not just in terms of their kinks and preferences: you can learn a lot about their approach and attitude towards sex as well.
Selfish or demanding via text? Unlikely to be generous in bed either. Can’t type ‘rude words’, even when things get really heated? Probably not the person you’re looking for if you’re really into talking dirty during sex. Monosyllabic and unimaginative? You get the idea.
On the flip side, someone who sexts with wit and verve; someone who’s responsive, creative and open; someone who can talk unapologetically about what they want – about their desires and appetites, almost regardless of what those may be; well, in my experience that’s someone you’ve every chance of having fun with in person too, if things get that far.
The idea that those early conversations – or nude photos, videos, etc – can puncture some pure, perfect little bubble of anticipation is ridiculous to me. If I want to fuck someone less after talking to them about sex, I tend to assume that it wouldn’t have been much good in the first place. As I wrote in that previous post, there’s so much going on below the surface with sex, and so much to discover about each other when you actually reach that point. Talking about it in advance may offer glimpses, pointers, and signs – encouraging or otherwise – but it doesn’t come close to showing the full picture. It’s like a tiny, delicious canape to whet your appetite for whatever meal you’re hoping to share.
It’s also liberating at an individual level. Sexting is how I learnt to talk about sex without blushing or watering down my words. In my early- and mid-20s, it helped me to explore and consider what I might want from a sexual relationship, with enough distance from the people I was messaging to make me feel less self-conscious about the things that turned me on. Over the years – and certainly since joining Twitter and starting this blog – that (mutual) exploration has frequently put a spring in my step and a smile on my face, whether or not it’s led to anything beyond a flirty, filthy chat.
I started writing this post because of a Medium article I read back in December, by Lucy Goes Dating. Among her 15 tips for being a better man while dating – many of which are perfectly solid nuggets of wisdom (‘Only swipe right if you’re actually interested’, ‘Don’t brag’, ‘Be kind and considerate’) – was this little eyebrow-raiser: ‘don’t mention sex AT ALL before you meet’. Lucy goes on to say
“It’s definitely a great idea to be upfront about your intentions, but before you get to that point, why not try charming her a little bit? Make an effort, flirt, be cute and funny, be interested in her, make her feel like you actually like her as more than just a sex toy. Let me tell you, doing that is a much more reliable way to make her want to sleep with you than sending her an aubergine and a tongue emoji three seconds after matching.”
When I read that, I sort of swallowed my initial response, because on one level I couldn’t agree more! Whether you’re planning a first date or basking in its afterglow, you should make an effort, you should flirt, you should be cute and funny, and you should definitely show interest in the other person. I just happen to think that all those things can co-exist with filthy, red-hot sexting.
Or they can for me, anyway.