A Word about ‘Sexy Talk’: Treading the Line Between Flirtatious and Creepy

when to text and when to callI recently had an enlightening discussion with a male friend about a recent video that went viral in which a woman recorded the male attention she received while strolling the streets of New York City. During the 10 straight hours she walked around with a hidden camera, she received a barrage of comments mostly about her appearance, including “What’s up beautiful?”,”Have a good day”,“Hey baby”, or “Smile!”

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” my friend said. “People were just being friendly.” As a man, he couldn’t understand what it’s like to be subjected to an invasion of unwanted compliments, especially if you feel like getting lost in your own head and not being forced to interact with complete strangers. Never mind the fact that one person’s “friendly” can easily cross the line into “threatening” or “just plain creepy. ”

Of course, that line isn’t always clear in online dating communication, either. If you’re looking for a serious relationship, receiving a first message that reads, “Hey sexy!” probably won’t inspire you to write back. But if you’ve gone on a few dates – and shared a few good-night kisses – reading those words in a follow-up text will feel a lot different.

You should always trust your gut about what level of ‘sexy talk’ feels right to you. It should feel flattering – never intimidating. You can always apply U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s much-quoted 1964 definition of obscenity “I know it when I see it.” But that was long before the invention of the Internet and the evolution of a more liberal sexual culture that continually challenges our boundaries about what’s appropriate and what’s sketchy.

Here are a few guidelines to add:

1) Sexy should never be the first adjective

For most people, the success of dating depends on physical chemistry, and whether you find someone sexually attractive tends to be more important than whether you like the fact they love carnitas tacos. And it’s okay to bring it up as long as it’s not the focus of a first (or almost first) email. An email that reads, “Wow! I really like your profile. I think you’re beautiful, smart, and sexy” is fair game. “Hey sexy lady. I think you are so hot,” shows an appalling lack of vocabulary. Sex appeal should be part of the whole package.

2) Context and timing are everything

If your date asks you to send some “hot pics” within a day of corresponding, he or she probably doesn’t intend to trade retirement bucket lists in the near future. But if you’ve been corresponding for a while, and you mention that you’re getting ready for a fancy holiday party, then being asked to send a “hot pic” of you in your new sparkly dress can be fun and flirtatious.

3) Find a healthy way to talk about intimacy

Since sex is an important part of our lives, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be discussed even in early communication. But make it part of a bigger conversation. “I’m looking for someone who likes the same level of intimacy as I do,” is a respectful starting point to broach other related topics: Do you like a lot of affection throughout the day? Do you like to be held during the night or do you like your space? Keep the focus on you and what you’re looking for, rather than asking, “How adventurous are you?”

4) Keep it playful

No one is an expert at dating, and even the most honorable match’s efforts at being flirtatious can fall flat. How are you supposed to answer,“So are you a good kisser”? Um…doesn’t everyone think they’re a good kisser?

It helps to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, as long as the conversation makes you roll your eyes – and not your stomach lurch. Text messages that sweetly begin “Sorry to hear you had a hard day! If I was there, I’d give you a back massage” can quickly get heated. If a chat veers into uncomfortable territory, you can always text, “Well, let’s keep some mystery. Besides, I’m getting sleepy. Gotta go!”

If your match continues to be aggressive or tries to make nearly every exchange sexually charged, then you have your answer. It should go without saying that anyone who is genuinely looking to get to know someone won’t be pornographic or disrespectful. Shut it down and move on to someone whose commentary really feels a compliment.

How did you handle a conversation that went outside of your comfort zone?

About the Author:

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate and Salon.

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