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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Textually Active

“Come home for lunch… I M Hot 4 U.”
“Sorry, can’t…2 busy. U cum here for BJ in car.”
“Really?? Wow! I haven’t been this excited in ages!”
“Me either! Get here NOW!”
It certainly isn’t the type of sonnet that would make Shakespeare jealous, but it was enough to lure my friend Dave[1] from his home office on a snowy, below zero mid-morning to the parking garage of his wife’s office for a little “afternoon delight.”  The message, Dave later told me, was sent via cell phone texting, and was spontaneous and impulsive, which, he added,  “was totally ironic since our sex life has been anything but spontaneous or impulsive.  Linda and I have been married for 11 years, we both work full time and we have three kids under the age of ten.  When we go to bed at night, we are too tired and just not interested in sex.”
“Things had gotten pretty dull in that department,” Linda later told me. “That day and that one text -message changed everything. I don’t know what possessed Dave to send that text, but I’m glad he did.”
“I had been thinking about her all morning and just randomly decided to text her,” Dave explained to me.  “I was completely surprised it turned out the way it did.”  I didn’t ask Dave how it really turned out in the end; that question might be better left unasked! 
I can empathize with Linda and Dave.  Sex in middle age and after years of marriage and multiple children is different than what it used to be. Long gone are the quiet evening dinners, spent lovingly gazing into one another’s eyes while discussing our hopes and dreams for the future, which, as you can imagine, led to passionate nights in the bedroom.  Dinners now are on the fly, jammed in between the kids’ team practices and what I refer to as “homework hell”, that is, the seemingly endless amount of time it takes to help all of the kids with their homework.  By bedtime my husband and I are both exhausted and not in the mood for sex.  Spelling lists, story problems, and social studies just don’t do much for my libido.  
Sexting, however, might be just the thing for libido.  The numbers of middle- aged Americans who text-message via cell phone has increased markedly in the last 5 years.  For some, this new form of communication has had little or no effect.  For others, it has precipitated a momentous change in work, marriage and social relationships. The examination of changes in marital relationships as a result of “sexting”, a form of text messaging involving sexual innuendo, sexual content, or private terms of endearment, is of interest to many middle-aged couples.  These sexual messages sometimes contain explicit sexual photos of the sender, known as wexting, and sometimes they do not.  Some couples are fearful sexting leads to “screen infidelity” that is, cheating on one’s spouse via sexting someone outside of the marriage. Others fear sexting leads to actual adultery.  Conversely, some married couples enjoy sexting as a way to spice up their marriage, using it as a way to create arousal for later sexual activity, or to create fantasy role-playing.  Some married couples use sexting as a silent form of phone sex while their spouses are out of town on business. (We certainly wouldn’t want little Sally to hear our phone conversation, do we?)  This ever expanding list of the possible uses and practices of sexting indicate that more and more middle-aged, heterosexual married couples are using this communication technology as a medium to increase arousal and incite sexual activity either with their spouse, with another person, or with themselves.  
According to RunText, a text message marketing service for businesses, 72% of all cell phone users in 2010 sent or received text messages.  The younger you are, the more likely you are to both text and sext.  95% of all cell phone users under the age of 20 report that they text message, sending on average 10 texts per hour during the day. This averages out to 3,000 text messages a month!   Sexting was once thought to occur only amongst teens, and their age groups continue to have the highest numbers of admitted sexters.  RunText also reports that 9% of the 13-year-olds who text report that they also send sext messages.  Sexting increases with age, with 24% of 19–year-old texters reporting that they also sext.  Sexting is not just for the kids, however.  28% of the texting parents surveyed admitted that they sext as well!  (RunText)
 Parents that sext appear to do so for many reasons.  Much like Dave and Linda, Tim and Sally had been in a rut.  Unsure if it was fatigue, boredom, or if constantly chasing their three year old twins had sapped all of the “heat” out of the marriage, the two of them shared with me they even though they had tried, no sparks were flying.  “We texted everyday while I was at home and he was at work, but it was always completely meaningless stuff like what to pick up from the store, who was going to watch the twins during book club and stuff like that.” Sally shared with me. “Then one day Tim and I had a fight in the morning.  He stormed out to work and a few hours later I texted him this marathon text about how he didn’t love me anymore.  He texted back how beautiful I was and then things just sparked from there.  We sent probably 100 texts that day, each one getting increasingly more sexual in nature.  By the time Tim got home from work we were ready to rip each other’s clothes off.  Now we send each other racy messages a lot.  I would never send a naked picture or anything, but on Fridays, I love sending him messages all day to get him turned on.”  Sally and Tim say that sexting is a regular part of their sex life now, calling it their own version of foreplay. 
            Jill and Ian also consider sexting to be regular part of their married life, and have discovered a new fantasy outlet because of it. Ian and Jill enjoy taking on character personas in their sexting messages, and then they stay “in character” during sex.   While Jill could not remember how and when it started, Ian had no problem recalling in great detail the movie and sexting that started it all.  “We had been watching a James Bond movie marathon on TV, and the next day I texted her at the office saying I was Bond, James Bond,” said Ian. “We kept is up all week and that Saturday night I had to wear a tux for a black tie charity event, and so we just kept playing the game, all the way to the bedroom.  It was great sex, and fun.  Since then we have been Romeo and Juliet, Anthony and Cleopatra, a pimp and his whore and even a soldier and a nurse.  Sexting out the characters during the week really helps us get into the roles we are playing and by Friday or Sat night.”  Sally and Ian have since become regular customers at the local sex shop, purchasing costumes and other props that help to complete their sexting inspired characters.
While couples like Jill and Ian use sexting to spice up their sex life, or to provide a new way to spark the flame, other couples like Jim and Anne feel that sexting actually is their sex life.  Jim, who works for a global communication company, travels away from home three weeks out of each month.  His home office is even located in another state.  Anne, who stays at home with the couple’s three children, only sees Jim on the occasional weekend that he is not out of the country. Because of this, Anne and Jim have a lot of phone sex.  “Sometimes, its just easier to sext each other,” Anne shared with me.  “I send him a picture or two to start things off, and then we sext each other until we cant take it any more.  We take turns getting ourselves off, while the other one sends pictures and words to help. “  Both Anne and Jim admit they would rather have traditional intercourse then this type of sex.  Jim admitted “I am surrounded by sex every day, especially in the Asian countries I travel to.  By the end of the day I have seen prostitutes on the street and escorts in the office. I am tempted constantly to have an affair, and I don’t want to do that.  I need to get off to release my tension and desires, and Anne sexting me helps a lot.”
Sometimes, couples are not as committed to remaining faithful to each other as Jim and Anne are, and sexting can be a conduit to an extramarital affair.  This affair can exist purely on screen, that is, the two may send each other sexual messages and images via computer or cell phone and use these images to arouse themselves for self stimulation, much in the same way a porn or erotic literature is used.  This is known as screen infidelity, as the two people never actually physically touch one another.  Some argue that screen infidelity is not actually infidelity at all, as no adultery has occurred.  Sometimes, married people feel more comfortable sending a flirtatious text message than actually flirting in person.  These texts can lead to sexts, which can lead to actual hook ups, that is, meeting for the sole purpose of having sex, which constitutes adultery, or an extramarital affair.
Steve, a 58-year-old building contractor has been married to Sara for 32 years.  Their children are grown and now live on their own.  Sadly, Sara has been bedridden with advanced stage Multiple Sclerosis for the last 15 years.  Steve doesn’t want to be unfaithful to Sara, but also has needs as well.  In an interesting twist to the situation, Steve admitted to me that he has been a closeted homosexual his entire life.  “When I was younger, I felt that I was some kind of a freak.  My parents were from the old country and there was no way they would ever be able to deal with me being gay. I decided at 22 that I would live a normal life.  It was ok, and I don’t regret having my kids or anything like that. But now that I haven’t had sex in so many years, I can’t get rid of all the thoughts and feelings I have for men.”  Steve shared with me that he watches gay porn, and has two gay friends that know his situation and that sext him to help him get off.  I didn’t feel it was appropriate to ask him if he intends to come out of the closet when Sara passes, but I suspect he will.
Steve’s situation has yet to result in adultery, or intercourse.  Sometimes, however, sexting outside of the marriage does lead to adultery.  Bob and Elle had been married for 13 years, when their marriage ended in divorce after Elle discovered Bob had been having an affair for over two years with a woman from his office. “He used to get text messages on his cell phone all of the time, and he even started sleeping with his phone under his pillow.  That’s when I started to suspect the texts were not just work related, like he always said they were.  Thankfully, the cell phone bill is in my name, and I was able to get 24 hours worth of text messages sent to me in print from our wireless company.  I was shocked and so mad. The sexts talked about his penis, and how much she loved it.  It was over the top.” 
I think it is fairly safe to say that no married couple wants their marriage to end in the same way Bob and Elle’s did.  Finding that a partner was unfaithful and dishonest is painful and humiliating. One could argue that sexting did not cause the affair, it merely helped it along. There are no statistics yet that can decisively point to sexting as a leading predictor of infidelity.  Sexting, much like porn, internet sex sites, and erotic literature arouses the senses and can make one more receptive to engaging in sex, whether that be with a spouse, a screen acquaintance, or a friend.  The actual consummation of sex is ultimately within the control of its participants, not of the technology that led them to it.
Given the number of teens and young adults sexting, I predict that as this segment of the population ages and marries, the incidence of sexting amongst middle-aged married adults will increase.  The practice may even come to be encouraged by the church and marriage counselors as a way to maintain a healthy, faithful sex life with one’s spouse. Until then, some couples will continue to explore the uses and practices of sexting both within their marriages, and in some cases, outside of it.   

[1] This, as well as all other names mentioned, has been changed to protect identity and privacy.

"Text messaging Statistics in 2010." RunText 2010: n. pag. Web. 4 Jul 2011. <>.

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