“Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.”

—Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, 1977

Barthes was a French literary theorist who weathered the storms of structuralism to write about everything from fashion to Tokyo to pleasure and language. Though he never owned a cell phone Barthes may have been the original sexter, seeing as his texts were always sexy.

But I wonder how Barthes would feel about romance in 2014, when sending pixelated versions of flesh to a lover in 2x5 photographs and describing in lascivious detail all the things you’d do to her (if you weren’t on your couch texting) has become the norm. I imagine Barthes would set the bar high. As he once said: “The text you write must prove that it desires me.” Sexting is here to stay so let’s do it with style.

Below are my favorite tips on how to keep this an activity that’s a fun and erotic mode of correspondence. Sexting builds anticipation but rarely releases it; for that you need the real thing. In order to get to that end you must have a means. So, dear reader, I present to you:

“A Style Guide to Sexting”


According to Barthes, there’s a crucial difference between an erotic image and a pornographic one, and I urge you to keep this in mind before sending a pic of your goods to a potential (or already established) sex partner. The erotic photo “does not make the sexual organs into a central object" unlike a pornographic one, Barthes argued. “It may very well not show them at all; it takes the spectator outside its frame, and it is there that I animate this photograph and it animates me.”

Yes, An erotic photograph trumps a pornographic one any day but you don’t have to be a French philosopher who died too soon to experience the joys of the iPhone’s reversible camera to feel that way. Enter: the dick pic quandary. I, personally, would prefer not to see an explicit picture of your family jewels unless you’re a modern day Mapplethorpe. Most people I’ve spoken to feel the same way. That said, some get off on that, so a quick few tips on how to send a dick pic that isn’t a total embarrassment:

  • Ask first: No unprompted, non-consensual dick pics.

  • No disembodied cocks: Contex, context, context!

  • At the same time, no measuring tapes, beer bottle, or cans of beans: The dick pic is by nature, “TMI”; we don’t need to quantify it.

  • Win the battle of the bulge. You don’t have to be Idris Elba to benefit from speculation about your package. Harness the power of suggestion and keep your Calvin’s on.

  • Flaccid or hard? Are you a shower or a grower? An eternal question… I’ll leave it to you.

Got that out of the way. Now, moving on to the whole body…

  • Consider your Lighting: You know in the movie credits where they have all these people billed as “grips” and “key grips.” Those are all lighting guys. Be your own “best boy.”

  • Know Your Angles. I grew up on sound stages and from the age of seven I was under lights with a director named Vinny telling me to “figure out which one is your good side.” It’s objectifying. Barthes himself compared the subjects of photographs to anesthetized butterflies. Know how to spread your pinned wings:

  • Crop Liberally: No need to kick your other friend out of bed when you can just adjust those borders.

  • Never save your pics to your iCloud. Next thing you know those 40 shirtless selfies end up on your Apple TV screensaver, and you’ve got a lot of explaining to do to your roommate.

  • Go Long Form. Video messaging may be the future of sexting. Maybe rent some special equipment and really go for it like these guys.

  • Try a “clothed option.” Leaving something to the imagination can really get people going. (Just look at “#blueballs” from last week. A pair of collar bones was all it took for him to go totally nutso.) The best erotic photographers always leave something to the imagination—Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton, Edward Weston. Do your research.

Now moving on to the other half of the sexting equation…


Perhaps one of the trickier aspects of the art of sexting is figuring out how to get the ball rolling. Some tips for initiating:

  • Wait for the right moment. Your texting partner is always sending you signals. “Stuck at home w/ family, so horny. Help me, ” or “I’m at home in bed, not going out tonight. wish you were here” sounds like they’re begging for a sext sesh. If they say, “I’m in a business meeting.” Probably best to hold off. Or actually, maybe not…

  • Don’t blow your load. Don’t get too racy too fast with someone you don’t know. You might later regret your offer to "shake them like a Polaroid picture” when really you’d rather pay for your coffee and bounce. Slow burn, my friends, slow burn.

  • Be a tease. Seduction is a promise that you may or may not fulfill. Remember that when you’re sexting. Keep the person guessing as to whether or not you’ll really follow through.

Unlike a good conversation, it can be awkward to keep the momentum going with sexting, given its asynchronous organization. Some tips to keep it flowing:

  • Never underestimate the power of a list: There’s a reason they’re so popular on the internet: they work. Think of 10 things that fit the following buckets, and fire away:

This is what I’m going to do to you.
This is what I need you to do to me.
Here are all the public places where I want us to secretly have sex.

  • Humor is key. Sexting is silly. Crack some jokes. If it’s a dud, you won’t have to hear the silence of your sexting partner not laughing.

  • Expand your vocabulary. Shakespeare invented the words “obscene” and “hot-blooded” and where would we be without those? I suggest you make use of the following:

la petite mort

  • Change your scenery. If you’re feeling risqué, photograph yourself in different locations in various states of undress. Let that serve as an invitation for your sext partner to come find you. Call it adult hide and seek.

Once you’ve refined the art of sexting, it’s time to drop that ’t’ and arrive at some in person contact. How do you transition your digital session into a real-life one with finesse?

  • Don’t rush it. Let the sexting unfold as organically as a bunch of farmers’ market kale. I guarantee that rushing to sex from sext will result in you shopping for said kale alone as opposed to in post coital companionship.

  • Close the deal. Here’s what to say to make it happen without coming off as excessively thirsty:

You have a way with words. Want to give me an in-person vocab lesson?

Same time next week? But, let’s do it at my place. You bring the wine, I’ll bring the Barthes.

I bet you kiss with that mouth as well as you talk but I want to find out for sure… Let’s do this again, with our phones turned off.


Just the Tips is Playboy.com’s weekly advice column, with professional matchmaker Katherine Cooper. Have a question for Katherine about sex, love or dating? Shoot her a note at justthetips@playboy.com.