Chosen Risk in the Time of Coronavirus (a.k.a. Why I’ve Decided to Send Nudes)

Coronavirus sucks. Social distancing sucks. I’m lucky to have a home with a yard, a stable internet connection, and an immune system that generally works well…and it still sucks. I hate not being able to visit my partners and family for an indefinite period of time–we assessed the transmission risks and decided that we can’t risk exposure while the coronavirus spreads so stealthily across the country. While we wait for more information, we have to protect ourselves and others who are more vulnerable, including those who can’t socially distance because they’re on the front lines. We’re struggling to compensate for a sluggish federal response and a broken healthcare system, doing the [helpful] we can–and we don’t know how long we’ll have to do it or what the eventual outcomes will be. That’s hard. 

The fear and uncertainty wear me down like a constant buzz of radio static. I can calculate some risks, but others are outside my control, and this situation is constantly evolving. That said, being voluntarily cooped up has reminded me that some risks can be chosen and that boundaries can evolve as we grow and change. What seemed too risky yesterday might feel perfectly reasonable with a more up-to-date risk assessment (and vice-versa). I’ve decided to use this time to re-evaluate my ‘risk profile’. By that I mean that I’m taking a second look at the things that I mentally packed away long ago as “not worth the risk,” dusting them off like provocative outfits, and trying them on for size. 

Logically, under the circumstances, this choice has manifested the most in my virtual life so far. My brain has been searching feverishly for technological solutions to a sudden dearth of physical contact, which now includes an ongoing list of screen-sharing apps that I have yet to try. But this revelation came to me fairly quickly: when my partners can’t physically touch me, the next [helpful] thing is to show them more of my skin.

Know this, gentle readers: before the COVID-19 crisis, I had never sent a nude image of myself to anyone. Over the past couple of weeks, I decided to investigate why. I’d sent teasing images, certainly–strategic pictures of my legs were a favorite (in my mind, ‘almost nudity’ was just fine) and posted them on FetLife. I had no problem receiving nude images, and in fact, I revel in the knowledge that my sub sends me nude pictures whenever I ask. But I never felt comfortable reciprocating. 

That might seem quite strange, and it is. I have no personal history of trauma with nudity or image exposure. I don’t recoil from the nude images of others. I trust my partners not to share anything without my permission. The most succinct explanation I have for the longstanding “no nudies” boundary is inertia–I came up with that boundary at a time when I was just starting to explore my sexuality, chatting casually with people I wasn’t sure I trusted, and it stuck.

Before that time of exploration, it barely occurred to me that sending a nude was an option–nearly all the information swimming around in my head about nude pictures warned of “revenge porn” and other possible dangers that ranged from embarrassing to traumatizing. I had definitely also internalized some black-and-white thinking from middle school guidance class: “Sexting – Don’t do it!” 

Early in my kinky exploration, having a universal “no nudes” policy was an easy way for me to avoid having to think about that baggage or to ask whether what I had been taught still made sense for me. I trusted myself, but I wasn’t sure I trusted others. I encountered a few pushy types. Saying that I just didn’t send nudes from the start of a correspondence allowed me to separate the wheat from the chaff–it was a litmus test that showed who would respect my boundaries. But I’ve learned that some of the arbitrary boundaries that once kept me safe aren’t suitable anymore. As an adult, I’ve learned that I can’t grow if I rely on others to choose them for me; I have to investigate the risks and choose boundaries for myself. 

As I thought and felt all of this through, I realized that I had no compelling reasons not to send nudes and no visceral feelings of distress at the idea–I felt nervous about trying something new but felt more excited about the prospect of sharing something meaningful with my partners than anything else.

I asked myself a lot of questions, like “What might I do if my pictures get leaked? What if the ones who look at the pictures don’t think they’re attractive? Which ‘risks’ are important to me, and can they be managed? Under what circumstances would I feel comfortable taking on these risks? Do I feel enthusiastic about changing this boundary?” (I think I’ll write another post about nude photo risk-assessment some time.) I decided that I didn’t need a “no nudes” boundary to feel respected and that I would send nudes consensually as a way to connect with my partners and my own sexuality during this time of distance. 

Long story short, I sent and posted my first nude photos a few days ago, a couple peekaboo shots of my chest, and it felt great. I felt cute, brave, vulnerable, attractive, handsome (yes, handsome), and powerful. I assessed the risks, I found boundaries that feel good to me, and I tried something new, understanding that I can change my boundaries again in the future if I need to. When my choices feel so overwhelming and yet so limited, finding opportunities for chosen bravery that brings me closer to others feels very healing. In those opportunities, at least, I find ways to be more hopeful than anxious. 

*Note: For the time-being, I won’t be posting any nudes on this blog. That’s not what this space is ‘for’. If you want to connect on FetLife, where some of the fabled nudes will reside, do send me an email.

Wicked Wednesday


Masturbation Monday

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