How to Do It

My Boyfriend Refuses to Play Ball With Sexting

Also: We’re long-distance.

A woman looking at her phone, with text message bubbles glowing in the background
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo Motortion/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to Nothing’s too small (or big).

Every Thursday night, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.

Dear How to Do It,

My partner and I are a year into a three-year stint of long distance. I live in California, and he’s on the East Coast. We’re able to see each other every other month, and when we do, the sex is fantastic. The problem is, in between these visits, we have nothing. He’s ruled out sending nude photos because of privacy concerns (we both have moderately high-profile jobs), and when I’ve tried sending a moderately sexy message, he hasn’t replied with anything racier than some PG-13 euphemisms. I’m not going to force him into something he’s not comfortable with, but I am desperate for more. I don’t know if the underlying issue is the time zones and work schedules, confidence sexting, or a mismatched need for that kind of intimacy. The lack of sexual connection is making me feel lonelier and further apart than anything else in the distance relationship. Is there anything I can do?

—Hit Me Up

Stoya: I think the first thing to do is to have a conversation establishing what the hang-up is on his end.

Rich: Yeah, I’m really curious about what exactly his outlet is, if it’s not this.

Stoya: He may not need one, or may need less of one than our writer.

Rich: Right. It might just be porn and jerking off for him.

Stoya: Which is totally normal. As is needing more connection and interaction.

Rich: Yes. Hence the potential “mismatched need for that kind of intimacy.” I think one thing to keep in mind, to give him the benefit of the doubt, is that sexting has its own set of aesthetics that are discrete from sex itself. So you can enjoy one and not the other without it reflecting on your partner or your connection. Just personal taste!

Stoya: He might feel at a loss for words.

Rich: Yes, as someone who uses words all day long, sex is a wordless refuge for me.

Stoya: Exactly. I don’t want to talk any more than is necessary to communicate.

Rich: Not to sound like a pop song that was written in English by someone who barely speaks it, or just plain cheesy, but sex is its own language, its own conversation.

Stoya: I’m definitely not describing the thrust of someone’s love muscle.

Rich: Right?

Stoya: I have an array of moans. That generally gets the job done. They don’t translate well into text message form.

Rich: I read a piece in Men’s Health that a woman wrote on why she doesn’t like sexting and the dek is: “How many times can you say ‘rock hard’ before it starts to lose its meaning?” A fine point.

Stoya: Some people have a talent, but for the rest of us, sexting can feel awkward

Rich: Totally. I’ve never actually used it to get off. I can’t hang with it for that long, and it’s rarely without at least the pretense of soon enacting what we’re talking about.

Stoya: So sexting may feel futile to him as well.

Rich: Frustrating, even.

Stoya: His privacy concerns may extend to sexting too.

Rich: Do those concerns concern you at all?

Stoya: After the Jeff Bezos thing, no. He’s the poster child for “everyone has done it”—just about everyone who has access to a smartphone and the privacy to take sexual pictures.

Rich: Right, I guess it doesn’t necessarily indicate distrust of one’s partner, but of technology or hacking/breaches of “the cloud.”

Stoya: Exactly.

Rich: I was once extremely careful in these matters but then … I just stopped.

Stoya: I make porn and give sex advice, so a racy text isn’t going to damage my reputation.

Rich: Heh, right. Could FaceTime/Skype provide an answer to their problems? Could sexy video conferencing at least assuage the privacy concerns?

Stoya: That could go either way. Video chat can be compromised too. I think it depends on just how high-profile each of their jobs are.

Rich: I really want to believe that this is a relationship between a movie star and Broadway star. I don’t know which ones—it’s an extremely vague fantasy (not to get all sextual).

Good old phone sex would probably be the least concerning as far as a privacy breach, but again, if he isn’t verbal, it’s not happening. I just read this with slight concern because his issues could come from an inherent distrust of his partner (or any partner), and he’s not willing to play along/throw her a freaking bone at all.

Stoya: I think in today’s world it totally makes sense to be careful about sexting privacy.

Rich: I agree, and I actually don’t think people talk about it enough. A little bit of suspicion can go a long way. Look, sending pictures or sexual messages (in an arrangement that consensually allows for it) is not immoral; disseminating pictures that were meant to remain private is. But the world can be not such a nice place, and the assumption that someone may exploit your actions at a later date isn’t unreasonable. So I get the paranoia. The only way you can guarantee sex pics/chats won’t leak is by not taking them.

Stoya: Meanwhile, I think there are a couple of things our writer can do independently of her boyfriend. She can enrich her fantasy world with stories and/or videos. And she can invest in some sex toys. Sex toy technology and design has come a long way in the past few years, and there are some great products out there. Masturbation isn’t connection, but it can take the edge off and be worthwhile on its own.

Rich: While I know the writer yearns for a specifically sexual strain of intimacy, it’s not the only strain. There are ways of fostering communication and really bonding even from afar.

Stoya: What are some examples?

Rich: I think you opened with a perfect one: asking him about this particular block. If he won’t do sex talk, maybe he’ll talk about sex or talk about not wanting to talk about it. I can’t exactly relate in terms of a long-distance relationship, but sometimes when my boyfriend or I go on a trip, it becomes a lot easier to express what he means to me. From afar, I see how his presence organizes my world, what he provides, what he’s a refuge from. It’s emotional stuff, maybe sappy, but it flows when he’s away. (He’s away right now.)

Stoya: Aww. So maybe now is the time for emotional and intellectual bonding.

Rich: I think so. I think part of the fun of a relationship is building it from the ground up by talking about it. And I know you can only do so much of it, but it might be what they’ve got to work with right now. Can you think of any ways to further the bond without necessarily talking dirty?

Stoya: I was thinking nonsexual stuff like sharing feelings at the end of the day, talking about future hopes. Our writer would need to get her sexual needs met elsewhere.

Rich: Make a list of all the times you thought of him in one day and read it to him. Simple.

More How to Do It

I am a 35-year-old woman in a hetero marriage and could use some help figuring out how to communicate with my husband about foreplay. Once we get to the sex itself, he’s an attentive lover. However, he usually initiates sex by asking if I want to suck his penis, or telling me I want to suck his penis and just taking it out and shaking it at me. I don’t always want to feel like a bird eager to swallow a fat worm. He has no problem telling me I’ve hurt his feelings if I don’t immediately glom onto his penis. Any suggestions for what to tell him would be greatly appreciated.