Why Is Sexting So Hot? A Psychologist Explains How Dirty Texting Turns You On

Your phone dings and you glance at the screen. As you scan the racy message, your mind lights up — in a matter of seconds, it’s racing. Your body feels like it’s buzzing all over. We’ve all been there, and we’ve all wondered why sexting is so hot.

A whopping 74 percent of Americans have exchanged sexy messages with their partners, according to a 2017 study conducted by The Kinsey Institute — which is quite the increase from 2012, when only 21 percent of people surveyed admitted to sexting. And all of that digital seduction isn’t for nothing, either. Research published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior in 2018 revealed that people who regularly sext with their partners have better sex lives than those who don’t. In other words: Lots of us are doing it, and we’re actually reaping some major rewards in our relationships for taking the risk.

And as it turns out, there are some very scientific reasons why we get turned on while sending and receiving suggestive or explicit texts. Intrigued? I talked to LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D., a licensed psychotherapist, author, and TEDx speaker to learn about the psychology behind sexting: why we do it and how it gets us aroused.

What happens to someone's brain when they receive a sext?

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It may seem like sex starts in your body, but it actually starts in your brain. Seeing a sultry image, hearing your SO’s voice say some dirty words, smelling their cologne — these are some common mental triggers that get you worked up. And sexting is no different.

“When you receive a sext, your brain reacts by activating hormones and other neurochemicals of pleasure such as dopamine,” says Dr. Wish. “For women, the attachment hormone oxytocin also gets switched on. This hormone, which is crucial to mothers, intensifies feelings of the joys of closeness. When you combine pleasure and closeness, you can get sexual arousal — even from sexting! For men, hormones such as vasopressin intensity their sexual pleasure.”

FYI: Dopamine helps our brain to recognize a reward and then take action to achieve it. It’s also heavily linked to addiction. Think about it: You receive a sext, it makes you feel good, and suddenly, you want more. Every time your phone makes an alert sound, you can’t pick it up fast enough.

Why does sexting physically turn people on?

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According to Dr. Wish, sexting is a powerful turn-on because it’s a safe way to get intimate without having to get naked. When you participate, you can let your guard down with the other person in a way that you might not quite be ready for in person. Plus, you don’t have to worry about physically pleasuring your partner adequately (or at all), and you don’t have to think about switching positions. And since your partner isn't in the room, you can simply focus on your own pleasure without feeling the pressure to orgasm or getting your partner to finish.

“It's almost worry-free sexual responsiveness!” adds Dr. Wish. “And sexting can be a very good way to try out your feelings for someone. You can also discover what your partner likes sexually, as well as get a peek into his or her often hidden character. For example, does your sexting partner want you to fantasize that you are being a submissive?”

Essentially, sexting offers a safe space for expressing some desires that might feel scary to bring up in the bedroom.

Why are some people turned on by sexting more than others?

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Most of us can appreciate an exchange of racy messages now and then, but like anything else sex-related, it’s a turn-on for some more than others. In some ways, it depends on the person’s comfort level with their sexuality and moreover, being vocal about it.

“Even though sexting tends to be emotionally less risky than falling in love, some people feel awkward sexting,” says Dr. Wish. “For example, it can feel scary rather safe to reveal their fantasies and requests. They might be too embarrassed to be vulnerable in uncovering their secret desires.”

Of course, who your sexting likely has something to do with your comfort level. For example, it may very well be easier to let loose and fire off a provocative sext to a long-term partner than some rando you met at a party last weekend.

Do men and women get turned on by different kinds of sexts?

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While obviously everyone has their own unique preferences unrelated to gender, there are reasons why certain kinds of sexts tend to get men worked up more than women.

As Dr. Wish points out, men are often more visually stimulated.

“They are the ones whose heads turn the most when they see a physically attractive person," she explains. "Women do like to look, too, of course, but sometimes they don't respond as intensely as men do."

On the other hand, women tend to respond more to context, choice of words, and tone of voice. For example, they might want to hear how badly their partner wants them, or descriptions of what their partner wants to do to them.

“Part of the power of sexting is that it provides virtual safety, physically and emotionally — which can mean a chance to go wild," says Dr. Wish.

Feeling hot and bothered just thinking about it? Well, with that: Go forth, get out your phone, and don’t forget to practice safe sexting.

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