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Why are men so bad at sexting?

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Picture the scene. It’s New Year’s Eve, and you’ve just stepped away from the clamour of the coked-up boys and their NFT portfolios to get some air outside. A stranger comes out to join you, and you feel the grip on your Aldi prosecco tighten a little when you notice how handsome he is. Minutes pass in seconds. Something wild and intoxicating is in the air, louder than the EDM playlist and thicker than the plumes of cigarette smoke. Then it happens: he leans in slowly, places his hand awkwardly on the small of your back, and whispers those seven little words in your ear: “I may need to see the booty.”

Now that we’ve all resoundingly dunked on Adam Levine and his allegedly extramarital sweet nothings, perhaps it’s time to draw a line under it. Are the memes fantastic? Of course. Does repurposing the messages in the context of a real-life conversation make for a passable opening hook to an article on sexting? The jury’s out. But do phrases like “that body is absurd” and “it is truly unreal how f***ing hot you are” really represent a terrifying new plateau of societal cringe? Come on. Let’s be honest: if a comprehensive transcript of all your horny correspondence was published, would you stand by every word of it?

If you were raised as a cishet man, as I was, I’m going to take a punt and say the chances that you’ve written something breathtakingly unsexy to a woman at some point in your life are hovering around the 100 per cent mark. Clearly this isn’t just a problem for pop stars in their forties. Something is rotten in the state of the internet, and it’s going to take more to sort it out than disapprovingly tutting at the man who wrote “Moves Like Jagger”.

Attempts at something a little more lyrical often turn out to be even worse. The Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ declaration of “I love you, alive girl” to girlfriend Lauren Sanchez – glimpsed in a bundle of alleged text messages published by The National Enquirer in 2018 – sticks in the memory, appropriately enough for sounding like an AI robot’s first attempt at writing a Maroon 5 song. Even then, we’re only looking at choice pickings from the last few years; one peek into the state of play a century ago, particularly James Joyce’s unforgettably vivid “love letter” to Nora Barnacle in 1904, should be enough to dispel any suggestions that we left behind a halcyon era of more refined horniness.

Ness Cooper, a clinical sexologist, therapist and writer, says that part of the problem is that men don’t actually talk enough about sex. The difference is that some of that communication needs to take place before crash-landing into the DMs. “While men may be more open talking about sex to intimate sexual partners, including in fun formats such as sexting, they are often hesitant to discuss sex and sexual pleasure to others, such as friends and even healthcare providers when sexual issues arise,” she explains.

What often happens is that when men seeking to hook up with women get their clumsy advances rejected, they assume that women simply aren’t as interested in sex – or worse, devolve into misogynistic tropes to protect their bruised ego. That frequently isn’t the case.

“This may make men seem more forward when suggesting things around sex (including in sexting), yet their needs and desires may be on the same level as reciprocal female partners,” Cooper says. If there’s clearly no understanding of consent on display from the offset, why would anyone expect a safe and/or pleasurable evening to follow?

When you do screw up, Cooper adds, own it and listen to any advice you’re lucky enough to receive. “Allow yourself to get things wrong,” she says. “As long as your sexting is consensual and the other person is comfortable, anything can be sexy. It’s about experimenting with what works for you and your partner(s), and that’s also going to be different each time you sext.”

Adam Levine with wife Behati Prinsloo in 2020 (Getty)

The problem isn’t just that cis men aren’t being taught good sexual communication, but that they’ve grown up bombarded by culture and entertainment that teaches them how to do it badly – and that it works. We’re constantly assured – via Pepé Le Pew through to Ryan Gosling’s character in Crazy Stupid Love – that not taking “no” for an answer exemplifies confidence, romance, and ultimately success in the form of sex. No wonder young men are confused when it transpires that the world doesn’t work that way, and discover that their plucky, never-say-die attitude to romance is actually a creepy, please-leave-me-alone ticket to a harassment lawsuit.

Anne Hodder-Ship, a sex and relationship expert based in the US, is keen to point out that men aren’t given great tools to convey their horniness by society – but that they do need to learn. “Sexual communication is a foreign language for many people, but for anyone who has sexual interactions with other people, we’re all required to learn how to speak this foreign language with no handbook, no one to ask for help, no class to take,” they say. “[It’s] not because of malicious intent, but because of this total ineptitude that technically isn’t our fault.”

Like any skill, it takes work to get good at it. And like any skill worth getting good at, there will always be an abundance of charlatans and snake-oil salesmen ready to tell you there’s a faster and easier way. Unsurprisingly, even for people who might see that worldview as anything other than a joyless dystopia, viewing half the population as a means to an end is also not, it turns out, a great way to get laid. You may have to actually get to know people and imagine that their value transcends that of a blow-up doll.

“As inconvenient as this is, there is no script to memorise that you can learn and use until the day you die,” Hodder-Ship says. “We are not all robots. Everyone is unpredictable, and we’re all weird in different ways. So we have to engage with people knowing that. If somebody has sold you this idea that there’s a cheat code, you’ve been scammed.”

In other words, if you want to get good at sexting, you’re going to have to do the boring stuff: sharing stimulating, mutually enjoyable conversations; taking an interest in people and their desires; reading an entire article or a book to the end without deciding that it’s all woke nonsense written by beta cucks, or whatever Ben Shapiro is selling you this week.

“The internet is primarily made up of garbage content, cat videos and porn,” Hodder-Ship laughs. “That means we have to navigate intentionally. So if there’s a headline that’s promising ‘the number one way to make her come 40 times every day’ or ‘here are the 10 ways to make sure she always answers your DMs’ – anything like that, don’t click on it.”

Wait, not even for research? “You can be curious, read it for fun, but that is not the stuff that’s actually going to teach you how [to communicate effectively]. That’s the stuff that’s going to teach you how to get made fun of like Adam Levine.”

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