Written Jenna Wortham for Matter, with illustrations by Wesley Allsbrook, Trenton Duerksen, Lisa Hanawalt, Melody Newcomb, Pat Perry, Jonny Russo, Sam Vanallemeersch, and Roxie Vizcarr
“I sent my very first sext at the age of 15. Maybe I was 13. I was up late, talking to strangers in an AOL chatroom, when someone asked me to upload my photo. I can remember hesitating for a few moments, then obliging, my heart galloping along. I arranged myself on the thick carpet in my bedroom, took a photo with my Web cam, and sent it. Why? Why not? I was clothed, but it was definitely meant to be provocative, flirtatious. I couldn’t fathom any repercussions to my behavior, not at that moment, not at that age. And nothing bad happened, not really. People made comments of the variety you’d expect, some nice, some not so nice, and then the conversation trotted along.
Last weekend, my baby niece — who is now 17 — told me that at her high school, trading sexy photos is as common as trading Instagram handles. She doesn’t participate in the exchanges, she says, because these days, everything is forever. She lives in a different era. My photo mostly went away, but hers wouldn’t evaporate so easily.
I’ve long been interested in how technology mediates desire and the way that our phones, an extension of ourselves, foster intimate interactions that feel so personal and deep, despite being relayed through a machine. Oceans of emotion can be transmitted through a text message, an emoji sequence, and a winking semicolon, but humans are hardwired to respond to visuals.
This project came to life after the celebrity hacks of 2014 and the condescending aftermath of advice toward women that lectured them — us — about taking photos of our bodies, nude or even scantily clad in bikinis or in a dressing room. We were told that we only had ourselves to blame for expressing sexuality through our devices, and that we couldn’t expect the companies that sell us these machines and services to protect us if we behaved in a way deemed inappropriate. People weren’t (yet) telling these companies that they needed to work on their security protocols, so that the people using their devices and services would feel safe, or even that our safety was important. It enraged me. It still does.
I think that everybody sexts. Not everyone sends nude photos, of course, for a variety of reasons. But many people I’ve talked to define a sext as anything sent with sexual intent, be it a suggestive Gchat exchange, a racy photo, a suggestive Snapchat, or even those aqua-blue droplets of sweat emoji.”
Read more about (and see many steamy examples of) #realworldsexting here! We love this article because everyone sexts, and it’s great to be able to see such a beautiful comparison of all the different ways it can play out.