I live with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and I’m a survivor of many experiences of sexual violence. This impacts my sex life in a number of ways. One big issue is that I have a tendency to go non-verbal during sex, especially with new partners. I have a hard time saying what I like and don’t like, asking for things and stopping things verbally during sex. This means that I need to do a lot of communication work before sex is happening, so that my partners know my desires and limits and nonverbal cues.
This wouldn’t be too much of a barrier, except that my C-PTSD also makes me feel a lot of shame about my desires. It feels very risky and scary to state them out loud, even when sex isn’t currently happening. I’m afraid of being humiliated. I’m afraid that my desires are the “wrong ones”. I’m afraid of being a creep for having sexual desires, even though I know I work very hard to practice good consent and that I am extremely cautious. I am afraid of saying out loud what I want—even thinking about it causes my stress response to become activated. Good sex requires good communication. So, how can I possibly have good sex?
When I first started dating my partner, we were living in different cities. We had sex the first time we hung out and then I got on a bus and went back to my city, seven hours away. The next month, before seeing each other in person again, we blew up each other’s phones. Sexting took on an important role in our relationship because we weren’t able to have sex irl most of the time. We sent nudes. We talked about the sex we had and the sex we wanted to have. We talked about our desires and our fantasies. We wrote out imagined x-rated scenarios, some which we actually wanted to do and some which were just hot to think about.
This wasn’t easy for me at first. Sometimes I would write out a message and be like omfg I can’t send that! But I found that the courage it took to just lift my finger and hit send was a lot less than it took to articulate these feelings out loud in front of a person in real time. The stakes were lower. I knew that if I received a response that was difficult to deal with I wouldn’t have to process my feelings in front of the person. They wouldn’t see me squirming with discomfort and fear as I articulated what I think is hot. I had more control over the presentation of my desires and fantasies, and more space to handle all the emotions the process brought up for me.
For the first time in my life I was describing my desires and fantasies in graphic detail, I was learning about the nuances of good consent, I was giving voice to my sexuality in a way that normally terrified me, and it was really fucking hot. The process wasn’t hard and stressful. It was scary and intense sometimes, but doing it over text rather than in person dialed the stress way down and let it be sexy and fun. I found myself saying things I couldn’t believe I was saying to this incredibly hot person on the other side of the screen. We were getting off together and we were learning about each other. No surprise, when I moved and we started having regular irl sex, it was amazing.
We are nonmonogamous and I often talk to my partner about my struggles with dating and sex with other people. I tell them about how hard it can be for me to ask for what I want, to express my desires and communicate my needs. I tell them about how I frequently end up freezing and having bad sex because I don’t know how to communicate. Or, I date people for long periods of time without having sex, because both of us are too afraid to make a move. It ranges from disappointing to traumatizing and I get so frustrated about it. My partner said to me, “Why don’t you try sexting? You can tell your dates you need to communicate that way. You’re a writer and you feel safe over text. Think of it as an access need!”
Framing sexting as an access need may seem strange, but in my experience it has made a noticeable difference in my ability to have safe, empowering, hot sex as a person living with C-PTSD. Millennials are always getting shit for being attached to our smartphones, and there are definitely downsides to our phone use. At the same time, our phones are tools and we use them in a lot of creative ways. In this case I use my phone as tool to navigate my disability and have better, safer, hotter sex. I can write out my desires, explore fantasy scenarios, ask difficult questions, state boundaries, explain communication styles, take hot nudes, have live real time long distance sex, use excessive emojis to express enthusiasm, take a step back from the convo to process my feelings, and practice skills that are highly valuable for irl sex in a lower stakes scenario.
Even though my partner and I live in the same city and get to fuck each other irl way more these days, we still blow up each other’s phones with fantasies and nudes and have hot sex in separate beds in different parts of the city. This practice builds intimacy and it’s a lot of fun. I also use this practice to get to know new dates. Sexting can be an access need, it can be a creative way to cope with the effects of trauma, and it can be a super hot and fun addition to sex.