Sexting Etiquette, Part 1 – Consent and Negotiation

*Some time ago, in the olden days, two new friends sit by the fire, furtively passing notes to each other on a single piece of parchment…*  

Cloris (she/her/hers): “It was lovely to make your acquaintance yesterday.” *Attempts to sketch a marigold*

Beau (he/him/his): “Likewise.” *Squints at page* *Sketches an apple tree*

Cloris: “There’s a nice tree on the edge of the property. Perhaps we could take a turn about it?”

Beau: “I’ve got two nice apples.”

Cloris: “Oh, wonderful!’ *Sketches a rose* 

Beau: *Sketches what he believes to be an anatomically correct image of his own member*

Cloris: *Crumples up the paper* *Throws paper on the fire* *Storms off to complain to Agatha* 

-To be continued-

Oof. Poor dears. They weren’t exactly ‘on the same page’ (hehe). 

Thus begins a series on sexting etiquette! Sexting is “sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs, or images, primarily between mobile phones, of oneself to others. It may also include the use of a computer or any digital device” (thanks, Wikipedia)

Like any other form of communication, sexting is a social behavior. In social settings, we use ‘etiquette,’ a system of often unspoken rules, to guide our behavior and expectations, ideally to show consideration for others and make communication smoother. Etiquette varies from place to place and should change with people’s needs. It doesn’t cover every issue, and it’s not inherently ‘good’ on its own. 

For example, I like to open doors for people, a common part of social etiquette whose meaning changes with circumstance. To me, it says “I care.” To others, however, it might say “I don’t think you can handle this yourself” or even “I want to hold power over you.” Thus, my door-holding behavior isn’t always appropriate. I have a habit of almost always holding the door for specific friends. They know what I mean by it because…we’ve talked about it. The same caveat applies to sexting etiquette; there’s no universal language, and it will have to change over time. 

That said, we often don’t apply basic rules of consideration to sexting situations in the first place, which is partly why I think that intentionally using the lens of etiquette can help. Sometimes, we’re so embarrassed by the prospect of sexting that we don’t know how to think of it as a social situation with another human–we spend so much time seeing sex as this scandalous, unspeakable thing that when we actually get to be sexy, we don’t know how. We may not know how to initiate, how to say what we want (or what to say at all!), and how to stand up for ourselves and set boundaries if sexting feels uncomfortable. So, let’s start with some basic rules and guidelines for ‘initiating’. 

First, decide whether it’s ethical and appropriate for you to sext. If there’s a major power difference or professional boundary between you and the other person/people (Ex: you’re their employer, they’re your pastor, etc.), it’s not advisable. As a rule of thumb, if one of you might be afraid to say no to the other, don’t do it. A general note on power: All kinds of power differences affect our interactions with others–wealth, age, gender, race, and citizenship status, to name a few. As a man, Beau has social (and even legal) power that Cloris may not have as a woman, but if Cloris is much wealthier, she may leverage that wealth against him. There are few easy answers when it comes to power difference, but it’s important to recognize where they exist. 

If the playing field is relatively even, you may ask for consent to start sexting. We’re not always good at asking for consent before diving into something sexually explicit–it’s easy to forget that there’s a real person behind the screen, not a fantasy-fulfiller.

Even if think you’re ‘flirting,’ don’t introduce an explicit sexual element without checking in. Make sure that the other person wants to participate. This is especially important with new partners. In that vein, sending a picture of your anatomy without asking, like Beau did, is not a good way to obtain consent. It’s the texting equivalent of flashing someone in the street. 

I wonder how differently Beau and Cloris’ conversation might have gone if Beau had taken more time to understand what Cloris’ messages meant, gotten to know her better, and then asked what she wanted.

He might have said “I am sexually interested in you” and waited for an encouraging reply from Cloris that wasn’t just a flower. Then, he could say “I would like to write about my desire with you and hear your desire” and later, perhaps, “May I offer you a portrait of my member?” Then, Cloris could be like “I’d like to see the real thing. There’s an apple tree at the edge of the property…” (Of course, she might just be like “What’s a member?”)

Note: In this situation, you might be thinking, “Well, Cloris might feel like she shouldn’t say yes because she’s a proper lady.” Very true! Her refusal is valid regardless. 

If you’re not sure what something means, ask! (For Cloris, marigolds symbolize happiness. She was schooled in the language of flowers. Beau is not.) If you think something would be really sexy to talk about, ask if you can talk about it. We can’t take our own standards for granted when interacting with new people. 

A partner might be comfortable with text but not pictures. Maybe they’re at work and don’t want to risk others seeing. Maybe they only feel comfortable talking about sex with you in a theoretical way. (This is a common issue for people who work in the sexuality field; people assume that because they talk about sex professionally, it’s okay to sext the professional without asking.)

Say what you want and ask them what they want. Does that sound awkward and vulnerable? It is, especially if you’re new at it. That’s okay! It’ll get smoother, and if you keep talking to the same person, you may gain enough familiarity after a while to sext them without negotiating each time beforehand. Ask, and (maybe) you shall receive.

In short, treat your potential sexting partner as a human being who is creating an experience with you. No need to be as formal as Beau and Cloris. 

Here are a few ways to gauge comfort levels and ask for consent in different contexts (your mileage may vary):

  • “I’m pretty sure we’re flirting. Are we? *wink face*”
  • “I love your FetLife photos! Can I send one of mine (it’s a nude)?”
  • “I’m feeling really turned on right now. Can I tell you about it?”
  • *sends devil emoji* (Their response will give me an idea of how to proceed.)
  • “OMG I just had a hot sex dream. *blush face* Want to hear about it?”
  • “How do you feel about anal?” 
  • “My hand is on your thigh. Tell me where you want it to go.”
  • “(Are you okay with using pet names when we sext?)”

As you get more familiar with your sexting partner, you may be able to use the shorthand of the dynamic you’ve fostered to gauge some things without asking. You might give blanket consent for sexting after a while, with the understanding that it can be withdrawn. For example, I am currently comfortable with my sub sending explicit messages to my phone most of the time, though there are specific times during the day when I don’t want to be messaged (namely, when I’m asleep). If I don’t want to receive sexts at any point or don’t like something, I just tell him. Those boundaries don’t work for everyone, but they work well for our dynamic right now. Pro-tip: If you have a smartphone, modify your settings so that message contents don’t show up on your lock screen. 

This epistle has focused mainly on what happens before or when you’re just starting to sext. In future installments, I’ll talk more about ongoing negotiation when the sexting gets hot and heavy, how to state boundaries and protect privacy, sexting in kink-specific contexts (like power exchange dynamics), and using sex-positive sites like FetLife

We’ll also find out whether Cloris and Beau kiss and make up. #Boris?What’s your “sexting etiquette”? Let me know in the comments! 

WickedWednesday

Fetish Foibles, Part 2 – Cleaning Communication

Welcome to Fetish Foibles, the series where I talk about my kinky mistakes! Read Part 1 here

One thing I’ve discovered in my time as a Dominant is that I enjoy receiving practical, concrete acts of service. My sub enjoys serving. I present this scenario for your edified entertainment: my apartment needed cleaning. My sub and I decided to try a scenario during which he cleaned my apartment in the nude, that classic staple of D/s fantasy. I made him a list of things to do. He stripped naked and got to cleaning. 

I, meanwhile, caught up on homework. When he finished tidying and scrubbing, I ‘inspected’ his work, feeling like Mary Poppins in her white gloves. My sub confessed a few minutes later that he felt bad about my assessment. I realized that I had been overly harsh for the situation; I had fallen back on corny erotica tropes about cold, critical Mistresses who demanded perfection instead of treating the cleaning like the loving service that it was. While we cuddled, I apologized and thanked him for letting me know how he felt. Through that process, we discovered a few issues that made the task less satisfying for both of us than it could have been.

First, we came at the service from different standpoints. I wanted practical, time-saving service that would free me up to do other things. My sub wanted to clean as an extension of our erotic play, imagining me watching him, teasing him at various points throughout the service task. A more thorough discussion of our wants and expectations would have helped us both. 

Second, we threw nudity in without considering our task environment. If you’re gonna clean in the nude, remember the factors of chemical exposure and room temperature–my sub got cold! 

Third, I used a more critical approach to assess the work than I normally would–one that was not true to my needs or our D/s dynamic. In my sub’s case, it was reminiscent of a difficult dynamic from another part of his life that he didn’t enjoy. It is perfectly fine to negotiate a service task in which the Dominant acts very stern and critical, but that emotional dynamic should not be taken for granted or forced upon a situation where it has not been negotiated. 

Nowadays, I still assign practical service tasks that aren’t the slightest bit sexy for my sub (they’re still sexy for me; being served and obeyed is immensely satisfying in many ways), but I’m more mindful of the importance of clear communication about our expectations and desires from service.

“Wow, you’re so domly!” – Negotiating from the Other Side of the Slash

[Image description: Photo is of red and purple flowers in a hanging basket.]

I’m already learning about myself through submission (even though I haven’t actually submitted yet). Having spent the past year exploring dominance (read my erotica “Stay Like This” to get a sense of my D/s dynamic with my sub), I decided recently, in abject terror, to start exploring submission. You can read about that here and here. As I browsed articles about D/s from my shiny new submissive perspective, I found one by Pearl O’Leslie called “Why a Special Protocol to Approach Dominant Women is a Bad Idea.” It made me think about the ways that men approached me on FetLife while I explored dominance. 

One pattern I noticed was that they sometimes perceived my frankness, my refusal to sugarcoat or soften my boundaries, as a sign of dominance. More than once, men I had been messaging with said they could sense my dominance. I think that happened for a few reasons: for some desperate souls, it was surely flattery. Others probably lacked experience with firm, direct women in their vanilla lives (which makes me sad). Still others were comforted by my ability to ask good questions; it inspired in them a desire to submit that made me feel authentically dominant. I’ve had the most fun with group three. 

I didn’t enter these conversations with the intent to be Ms. Domly Domme. I was interacting online as a woman, distrustful of men as a group and thinking that clarifying my boundaries quickly would shoo away the creeps. But it’s more complicated than that; in hindsight, I believe that part of what empowered me to set such clear boundaries was my dominant mindset. As Pearl O’Leslie writes, “Sure, it feels good to say ‘how can you hope to be a submissive for someone if you ignore my ‘no dick shots!’ request in my profile!’” 

And it did feel good. It felt powerful to be so firm. It felt comfortable. For a year, dominance has been a security blanket, reinforcing my sense that I can claim firm boundaries without guilt. But firm boundaries and dominance are not the same thing. Likewise, lacking firm boundaries is not submission. As I would tell any sub, everyone gets to have boundaries; no special approach required. That has been strangely hard for me to tell myself. Why? Because now that I’ve started exploring submission, I don’t have my security blanket. It’s made me feel awkward and prickly in a way that I rarely do as a Dominant, anxious and uncertain about whether I’m negotiating ‘correctly’ as an s-type. That’s been a challenge, and I couldn’t quite articulate why until I read that article and recognized my reliance on my dominance. 

Even without my security blanket, I need to have strong boundaries for my own safety and that of potential partners. With an ethical partner, I can expect them to be learned, acknowledged, and respected, no matter what role I choose. So when I put a “no dick pics” request in my profile or set any other boundary, in any role, I can let the boundary be without feeling either overly defensive in my vulnerability or guilty for the boundary’s existence. While understanding that doesn’t take away the fear of the unknown, it does reassure me to know that I don’t have to compromise my boundaries to negotiate as a submissive. 


Further reading: “Domism: Role Essentialism and Sexism Intersectionality in the BDSM Scene

Teaching from the Bottom” by blogger Kinky & Nerdy

Leadership is a Team Sport

[Image description: Photo is of two lounging cats. One looks at the camera, alert, while the other relaxes.]

Throughout high school, I never thought of myself as a leader. I was the quiet, nerdy artist who never could quite keep up with what was going on. I wasn’t often bullied, and I even experienced rare bursts of admiration when classmates watched me draw. But I didn’t think of myself as a leader, and I was not popular. (Cue “Popular” from Wicked.) 

During my ninth grade field trip, my teachers tried to push me into leadership by putting me in charge of the rest of the class for a team-building exercise. I stood on the ground while my classmates tried to shuffle their way across a low tightrope between two trees. My job was to tell them when to move, how, and where. 

The teachers kept adding restrictions. For example, I was the only one allowed to talk or move without direction. It did not go well. After tipping off the rope for the umpteenth time, my disgruntled classmates asked the teachers to replace me. The next attempt (with a different leader) went a little better, and the class eventually completed the challenge. Was a team built? Did I lead? Did we trust each other more after that? Not really. My teachers meant well in assigning me a directive role; they wanted me to rise to the occasion and gain confidence. Unfortunately, they didn’t set me up for success as a leader. As a ‘team,’ we were unequipped in several ways. 

First, the teachers ignored the dynamics of the class; we were all still hormonal, image-conscious teenagers. Some in the class, for better or for worse, had support and experience as leaders. I simply was not one of them. The teachers tried to impose a different dynamic without preparing us all to try it in good faith. 

Second, the teachers took away the tools I needed to communicate with the class and make good decisions. I could not read my classmates’ faces. Meanwhile, they were utterly dependent and unable to communicate with or support me. No wonder they got frustrated. 

Third, I lacked the desire to lead. Sure, that was related to shyness, perfectionism, and low self-esteem, but trying to force a shy perfectionist to lead confidently by putting them in a situation with no reason to feel confident tends to backfire. Ironically, as the only person allowed to move, I felt paralyzed. The resulting failure reinforced my belief that I wasn’t a leader. 

What could we have done differently in that situation? Any number of things might have helped. For example, we didn’t have to do that particular team-building exercise; we could’ve done the “human knot” game, where the team tries to untwist and very link does its part. 

The teachers could have asked for volunteers in the first place (I was not ready to be singled out for that particular activity). 

When we learned what the challenge was, we could have come up with a strategy or even divided leadership so that people on the ground and on the rope could observe what was happening and make recommendations. 

I could have paused the activity and asked for communication and suggestions, or I could have said “I’m not equipped for this; we need to let someone else have a turn.” 

My classmates could have handled their frustration better, perhaps stating their feelings and asking what I needed instead of just complaining to the teachers. 

The teachers could have made time for us to debrief after the activity, figure out why it was so hard, assure us that it was okay, and get input on what to try for next time. 

Shoulda coulda woulda. But thinking through what could have helped us then reminds me that ‘leadership’ is a team sport; no one ‘leads’ in a vacuum. 

I’ve had several less unpleasant opportunities to lead since that demoralizing experience. Joining Girl Scouts as a highschooler gave me opportunities to lead in a more conducive setting (yep, I joined Girl Scouts after most people drop out). 

I’ve learned about my strengths and weaknesses as a leader with help from friends and mentors; in my senior year of college, one of my college professors said I exemplified “leading from the middle.” With the benefit of experience, that ill-fated highschool exercise has provided a way for me to reflect on how I can set myself, my friends, my teammates, and my partners up for success.

In some cases, I am the designated leader and make firm decisions in that role. Even then, I need the support and input of others and the resilience to acknowledge when something doesn’t work. Most of the time, I share leadership with others on my team and support other leaders as we work to build the dynamics we want, protect our communities, and create spaces for growth and refuge. Leadership is not a one-person show. Instead, leadership is a matter of process and relationship, a team sport in which we all participate. 

Submission is Scary

[Image description: Photo is of a freshly rained-on brick patio with plants growing around the edges and through the cracks. A pair of pale human feet is at the edge of the frame.]

This’ll be short because I’m emotionally exhausted.

I’ve heard it said that in BDSM, dominants learn power, submissives learn courage, and switches learn wisdom (I wish I could find the original source). That statement oversimplifies things for sure, but it illustrates where I am right now. Looks like I’m about to be very courageous. I’m talking with a friend about experimenting with a low-key D/s dynamic where she is dominant and I am submissive; it’s more of a mindset than a specific kind of play. Not having had any experience with actually submitting before, I’m terrified. 

She brought up the idea of D/s a couple of days ago, and my subconscious wouldn’t leave it alone (I actually dreamed about it; I pay attention to dreams). When we finally started discussing it in messages, I had a physical fight-or-flight response–pounding heart, churning stomach, etc. Having only experienced kink so far as a dominant and top, giving up control and letting myself be led is scary. But scary doesn’t mean bad, and I’ve learned over the years that if I don’t let myself be scared sometimes, I won’t grow. 

Even though I’m intimidated by the vulnerability of it, I’m proud of myself just for being courageous enough to explore this path–I feel braver already. I’m also terribly curious about what I will learn and the wisdom that this experiment will bring. 

That’s all I got for now, but I’ll have more reflections soon!