The increasingly common practice of sending your sex selfies to your friends is a) empowering or b) TMI. Discuss.
Selfies. We know the social media drill. Pose up. Swing that reverse camera up and down. Up a bit more. Higher! Stretch that iPhone arm until
it burns. Look wistful. No wait, smile.
No actually, half smile, half wistful.
Hold it… snap! Edit approximately 133 pictures to find The One. Add filters.
Add more filters. Then send to all your pals – and your followers, too – via Instagram/Snapchat/Facebook/Twitter/Flickr/Swarm/WhatsApp/all of the above.
So far, so normal: selfies are addictive, and perfect for showcasing say, that Zara bargain, or a new gentleman friend. But where do we draw the line? According to some people, it seems we don’t. Social media is now awash with pictures of women languishing in their best pants, in Playboy-esque poses, flashing some flesh along with a provocative pout. These are the sexual show-offs who are sending such images to friends, and sometimes the wider world, too, and redefining the word ‘oversharing’ in the process.
‘My first pretty-much-naked selfie overshare was after a build-up of sexual showing off,’ says Charlie, a 31-year-old marketing manager from Leeds. ‘I’d just started seeing someone who loved sending me cock shots and nude, half-steamed-up-gym-mirror selfies. It was hot, so I replied with pictures of myself in my underwear, posed on my bed. At first they were just for him (and the response was satisfyingly appreciative), but one night, a bit tipsy on sauvignon blanc, I couldn’t help but show some of them to my best friend. She was impressed. It felt amazing, so I showed her more underwear and topless (nipples covered) snaps, sometimes for approval – “will he find this hot?” – at other times just to show off. A few months in, I loved a picture so much that I uploaded it to Instagram. As the likes rolled into double figures and beyond my private feed, I couldn’t deny it: the buzz was epic.’
‘Frexting’, a term coined in America, which covers the trend for sending sexy texts and pictures to friends, is now growing in popularity here. Why? For fun, a confidence boost and validation, with people you trust. For some women, it might be about expressing themselves or creating their own sexual narrative. For others it could be a symptom of a deeper issue, such as trying to combat feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem by seeking approval from others. ‘Human beings are inherently social creatures and the rise of social media has redefined the boundaries of our interactions,’ says counselling psychologist Dr Elinor Milby. ‘It’s natural to want approval and acceptance from others, and social media makes this easier than ever – each like, share or retweet of an image receives a digital nod of approval from someone else.’
The frexting kind of sexual show-off also knows that her offerings (ranging from arty images, to dancing in just a thong to a Taylor Swift video) won’t come back to haunt her, as she is sending them to someone she trusts completely. Plus, she’ll get a positive response – because that’s what friends do.
It’s a phenomenon that says a lot about the way we live our lives today. Sex expert and educator Alix Fox comments: ‘In the modern selfie culture, it is now the norm to post everything we do. We also typically have more open and less ashamed attitudes to sex, and there has been a move away from traditional ideas that sex and physical intimacy are things that should only ever happen between a monogamous, committed couple. These days, women are becoming more experimental and fluid with regard to their sex lives. Old barriers are breaking down; people are starting to behave in ways that prioritise fun, self-exploration and living for the moment over conforming to outdated societal norms… and involving your friends in your erotic exploits is par for the course, whether this is in a hands-on fashion, via deep, detailed conversations and post-adventure debriefs, or by sharing saucy pictures and videos.’
The latter is definitely true for Sarah, a 29-year-old management consultant from London. Recently, while fooling around with her husband – OK, she was giving him a blow job – she allowed him to film her. ‘It wasn’t planned, it just happened, and I made sure he used my phone,’ she says. ‘The video was always in my possession. I watched it a few times and talked to my friends about it, which led to them asking to see it. I obliged, which was odd at first, but then I was proud of my technique and the vibe of our homemade production. It was a random friendship experience, but in a funny way it brought us closer, and made me feel good about my skills and sexuality.’
However, while some people find sexual showing off a bonding, liberating and body-positive experience, not everyone will. ‘Some mates might be uncomfortable receiving these images,’ says Alix, ‘and it may even make them feel depressed. Others may see it as distasteful and egotistical. If you’re a sexual show-off, think about how it may make the recipient feel, rather than just about what fun it is, or how liberating it may feel for you.’
And what about sharing with strangers? Sarah did consider uploading her video to a DIY adult-movie website such as RedTube, a public space designed for amateur antics. ‘Part of me wanted to show off some more,’ she says, ‘but I was worried that I’d lose the control, which was one of the aspects that had made me feel so empowered in the first place.’
Yet thousands of British women do upload videos and images for random men and women to look at. And whether you’re uploading for friends – frexting style – or strangers, once the material is out there, so is the threat of it being used in a way you don’t want. ‘Unfortunately, it’s very easy for people with malicious intent to use this type of material to humiliate, blackmail, bully or intimidate the people they target,’ says Dr Milby. The UK’s first revenge-porn helpline seems to back this up – it took more than 1,800 calls in just six months from women looking for guidance when it all goes wrong.
As social-media trends go, frexting is like Marmite: some people will love the idea, while others would rather swallow a wasp. But experts reckon that the motivation can be positive. ‘In some circumstances, I think that sharing sexual images can be empowering for women,’ says Dr Milby. ‘Where women are sharing images consensually, this can be a way of celebrating their individuality – of saying “this is me, I love my body, and I’m happy with who I am”.’