What is sexting?
Sexting is commonly defined as sending or receiving sexual messages, such as nude or semi-nude images or sexually explicit messages, via mobile phone. It’s one example of cybersex, an umbrella term that includes sexting, phone sex, and online sharing via mobile apps, computers, or other devices.

Sexting is a great way of communicating desires, sexual needs, and fantasies. And, while sexting can be fun and exciting, it’s important to make consent part of the discussion.

How do I ask for digital consent?
Just like in-person consent, you need digital consent before and while engaging in sexual activities. Since it’s a precursor to more intimate activity, take pregaming just as seriously. So before you send that risqué message or photo, make sure you’re covered by saying something like, “I have something sexy I’d like to share, would it be okay if I sent it to you?”

Keep in mind, just because we have our phones all the time, doesn’t mean that everyone’s willing or able to receive sexually explicit messages or images at any time. Your recipient might not be in the mood or might be busy doing something else with their phone—be polite!

Things to think about before sexting:

1. Do I want to sext?

There’s all kinds of pressures associated with communicating with a partner, or a potential partner. Don’t engage in sexting if you feel uncomfortable with doing so, no matter what the reason is. Even with a long-term partner, it’s not okay to feel pressured into sending sext messages. Communicate you’re not interested or you’ve change your mind about sexting; if someone doesn’t respect this boundary, it’s a sign of an unhealthy relationship. Unhealthy relationships can lead to negative outcomes including things like blackmail (or cyberbullying), sexual harassment, or other forms of dating abuse. This kind of use of sexting can be extremely harmful and possibly even illegal.

2. Do I know the person I’m sexting?

This may seem like an easy one but with social media, it might not be so simple. These days, we interact with tons of people virtually via apps like Instagram, SnapChat, and Facebook, but doing so doesn’t quite mean you know the person. You may like talking them and might even start up a friendship or romantic relationship, but keep in mind that privacy, honesty, and trust are all important aspects of relationships—not just when it comes to sexting. Discuss sexting with the person in question to get a feel for their thoughts first.

3. Do I trust this person enough to send and/or receive sext messages?

As mentioned previously, social networking apps are a very popular form of communication. You can even send and receive direct messages that appear to be private. However, when it comes to the internet or messages sent through a mobile phone, nothing is truly private. You may also want to consider that sext messages could potentially be shared with others. Even if a private image or video is seen unintentionally by another person, communication about your intentions and trust with the person you are sending or receiving messages from is really important.

The bottom line is that, while sexting may seem casual, consent and trust are always necessary. When sending or receiving sexually explicit images or messages, keep them to yourself. It is never okay to share someone’s private images or messages with others.

If you receive an unwanted sext message, image, or video, delete it immediately and be direct with your response. Tell the sender you’re uncomfortable receiving those kinds of messages and ask them to stop.

When consenting adults engage in sexting, it can increase sexual communication, enhance intimacy, and improve overall sexual satisfaction in the relationship. Need some ideas? Check out Sexting 101.

Ashley Townes

Ashley Townes

PhD, MPH, Epidemiologist at Centers for Disease Control
Dr. Ashley Townes (she/her/hers), is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio. She attended Walnut Hills High School and the University of Cincinnati, where she received both her Bachelors and Master of Public Health degrees. She received her doctorate degree in Health Behavior and Epidemiology from Indiana University.

Dr. Townes has experience working as a Community Health Educator and Disease Intervention Specialist in Cincinnati and the surrounding areas. She has worked on several initiatives related to the dissemination of national HIV prevention and care campaign materials tailored for African Americans, Hispanic/Latinx, and transgender women of color. Dr. Townes has taught collegiate-level Human Sexuality courses, served as an Epidemiologist at the Ohio Department of Health, and currently works as an ORISE Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention’s Epidemiology Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA.

Ashley’s research background includes work on the sexual experiences of African American/Black women accessing health information and utilizing sexual health services. In 2018, she received grant funding from the Patty Brisben Foundation for Women’s Sexual Health to translate sexual health research data into educational materials. Her career interests are aimed at providing quality sexual education and working towards health equity.