The first time I saw my best friend half-naked was late one night on the small lit up screen of my iPhone.
“Do you like??” she texted, and attached a picture of herself in some new lingerie: a lacy bra, some knee-high stockings, a garter belt. Sexting is supposed to be serious and, well, sexual. But getting this pic from just-a-friend was humorous and, well, platonic. It reminded me of how I felt when I was a young girl and would see grown women undress in the locker room. I was excited and in awe and also a little embarrassed.
The text really wasn’t much different from female cultural rituals I’m used to. Alana Massey, who lives by the motto Dick is abundant and low value, thinks sexting with friends is like the “performative activities and hobbies that women are encouraged to do at a young age.” She remembers the first time she put on a ton of makeup. It wasn’t for a boy; it was to make Hole and No Doubt music videos with her friends. “It’s the extension of the very old idea that women dress up for each other,” Alana says. “Part of showing off is about sharing yourself with your girlfriends.”
And just like riffling through a box of costumes and plastering makeup on your face when you’re 8-years-old: IT. IS. FUN.
“I just got the most amazing sext!” I blurted out, forgetting about the man trying to fall asleep next to me. He immediately perked up and asked to see.
“Never,” I responded. His request was ridiculous and almost insulting. It wasn’t explicitly said, but I knew the picture was for my eyes only — and especially not for this straight man’s. Because unlike what we’d come to expect from the opposite sex, there was no chance I’d secretly critique her body, or get a boner and expect more. It was simple.
I didn’t know this behavior had a name until I saw a blog post on writer Kelly Williams Brown’s tumblr calling it “Frexting” — a mash-up of “friends” and “sexting”:
Essentially, instead of sexting that random person (who might not appreciate it OR might share it with the world) send them to a close friend, who will tell you you look hot. Only send PG or PG-13 rated pics, obviously.
Frexting etiquette includes replying with positive emojis, including but not limited to the little fire, a cat with hearts for eyes and clapping.
This is a surprisingly fun and empowering thing to do.
It was a woman’s great ass that first inspired Kelly to frext (and then think of the term). “If she put pictures of her butt on Instagram, she would be a celebrity,” she says of one of her friends. Kelly tried to explain the butt’s beauty to another girlfriend of hers, but words just couldn’t do it justice.
“Hey, I know this sounds weird but can you send me picture of your butt?” she texted her friend.
“Of course,” she responded, attaching a pic.
Just to be fair, Kelly sent one of her own — in underwear — back. “It’s an awesome way to feel attractive and celebrate whatever it is you like about your body in a way that feels playful and fun,” she says. This always consensual practice is now popular in her close friend group of about 8. Kelly says she exchanges about 2 to 3 a week: Some standbys include the “classic bathtub frext” — just legs in the tub and whatever 1992 era YA literature she’s reading — or a mouth-down shot of her boobs in a very low-cut “Dolly Parton dress.”
The picture would probably be the same if meant for a guy, but the subtext is completely different. Elizabeth Schulte, one of Kelly’s frexting friends, is comfortable sending sexy selfies to her girlfriends, but not her fiance. Because with men, the contract is different. “It wouldn’t be as profoundly hilarious to send them to someone who would take them really seriously,” she says. “It’s much more empowering to receive the response ‘damn girl, look at you’; it’s more fun that way.”
We know that technology is used to abuse minorities of all kinds (cc: comments sections, Twitter, etc.), but I’m fascinated by the way it can sometimes help people change their own culture. In frexting, women are “coopting a device that was built for one specific intention, and turning into something that’s used for female bonding,” says writer Jenna Wortham, who interviewed over 60 people for her Matter project Everyone Sexts. Our phones are just vehicles for these intimate feels and connections.
Frexting also lets women feel attractive and safe simultaneously — a rarity when even walking down the street in sweatpants can be sexualized. “[Sending a frext] is about my personal need to be sexual but not to be sexualized back,” says Alana. “My [sexuality] can be affirmed without making anyone want more than I’m offering.” The offering here is less about being a sexy thing, and more about being a sexual human being.
"Theres's that double standard where girls are supposed to be sexual objects, but not subjects," says Amy Adele Hasinoff, author of Sexting Panic: Rethinking Criminalization, Privacy, and Consent. This is the root of the hubbabalo around selfies: In taking one, a woman who learns at a young age to hate the way she looks in pictures takes control of her own image. She counters the male gaze by saying “I THINK I LOOK GOOD, AND I DONT GIVE A SHIT IF YOU THINK I’M A NARCISSIST.”
It’s not a shock then that frexting, unlike sexting, doesn’t conjure up the same fears: That I’m being judged against an unrealistic ideal. That a stranger will see me naked. That I’m a drunken lover’s spat away from the revenge porn apocalypse. Women are “much more accustomed to being vulnerable and protecting each other in online spaces,” Jenna says. “There is a culture of women looking after each other.”
The night I received my first one, I instinctively knew that part of this “blood pact,” as Jenna calls it, was participating myself. I wrote “😍😍😍amazing😍😍😍” in response to my friend and attached one of me flirtily looking at the camera from under my floral sheets.
“Gorgeous,” she writes back, and I believe her.