As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us have seen changes in our sex lives and sexual habits. For example, since it has become increasingly difficult to meet up with sexual partners in person, many people have turned to sexting (e.g., Lehmiller et al., 2021). “Sexting” refers to sending sexually explicit images, messages or videos over the phone.
While it is great that technology allows us to maintain this form of communication with our sexual partners even when we cannot see them face-to-face, sexting poses its own unique set of challenges. Therefore, before engaging in sexting, it is important that you are informed about the risks, your rights, and the laws. Here are three questions to ask yourself before you sext.
1. Am I being pressured/am I pressuring them?
Research shows that an alarming number of people have experienced pressure to engage in sexting – for example, one study found this figure to be approximately one in five (Drouin et al., 2015). It is important to remember that you are not obliged to send anything that you don’t want to send. Perhaps you are uncomfortable with what they are asking of you, or you’re simply not in the mood. Whatever the reason, you can stop at any point, even if you have already started or if you have sent similar material in the past.
They might tell you things like “you owe it to me”, or “you’d do it if you really loved me” (Drouin et al., 2015). This is coercion, and it is not okay. Likewise, if your partner (in this article, “partner” will be used to refer to whomever you are sexting with) is hesitant or does not want to sext with you, you must accept and respect this decision. Do not continue to ask, and do not threaten them in any way.
2.Can I trust this person/ can they trust me?
Only send sexually explicit material to someone that you trust. Unfortunately, there are some despicable people who would share your explicit photos without your consent. If you are worried, there are some precautions you can take to make things a little safer for yourself, such as not including your face in explicit photos or videos, and sexting on an app that notifies you if your partner takes a screenshot. It is also a good idea to discuss ground rules with your partner first, such as how long you will both keep the material for before deleting it.
However, always remember that if your partner does breach your trust and shares explicit material of you, they are the one that did something wrong, not you. The fault is all theirs. Likewise, if your partner trusts you enough to send you explicit photos or videos, it is your responsibility to make sure that you do not breach this trust. In most countries, including Malta, it is in fact illegal to share sexually explicit material of somebody without consent (Degiorgio, 2016).
3. Are we both able to consent?
True consent is freely given, voluntary and enthusiastic (Sexual Consent, n.d.). You must obtain consent from your partner before you send them sexually explicit material. Your partner must obtain your consent too.
It is very important to remember that if you are a minor, you cannot legally consent to sexting (a minor is usually defined as someone who is under the age of 18, but this varies slightly from country to country so if you aren’t from Malta, make sure to check what the law states in your country!). You must also make sure that your partner is above the age of consent, as it is illegal to be in possession of sexually explicit photos or videos of a minor.
To sum up, sexting must always be mutually consensual and without coercion. It is best if you sext with somebody that you trust, and it is your duty not to breach your partner’s trust. Stay safe, sext responsibly, and of course, have fun!
If you are struggling with issues related to sex and sexuality, book an appointment here.
Eva O’Byrne is an intern with Willingness team. She is currently completing a BA in Psychology at NUI Galway.
Degiorgio, E. (2016). Criminalising revenge porn. https://www.um.edu.mt/library/oar/handle/123456789/17574
Drouin, M., Ross, J., & Tobin, E. (2015). Sexting: A new, digital vehicle for intimate partner aggression? Computers in Human Behavior, 50, 197–204. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.04.001
Lehmiller, J. J., Garcia, J. R., Gesselman, A. N., & Mark, K. P. (2021). Less Sex, but More Sexual Diversity: Changes in Sexual Behavior during the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic. Leisure Sciences, 43(1–2), 295–304. https://doi.org/10.1080/01490400.2020.1774016
Sexual consent. (n.d.). Sexualwellbeing.Ie. Retrieved 6 August 2021, from https://www.sexualwellbeing.ie/sexual-health/sexual-consent/sexual-consent/https:/www.sexualwellbeing.ie/sexual-health/sexual-consent/sexual-consent/sexual-consent.html