When Apple rolled out its tepidly anticipated reaction feature for iMessage back in 2016, it made more of a ripple than a full-blown wave in the realm of digital communication. iPhone users were marginally enthused about the fireworks and invisible ink features for a mere iOS 10 seconds (ha, get it?) before returning to their normally scheduled appsturbation. Flash forward three years, however, and the tides, they are a-changing. The mini-innovations have gained traction, and not just in the form of HBD wishes that turn into confetti: Now, if sexting is the dirty talk of virtual connection, reactions are officially the body language for how to flirt over text.
For context regarding WTF I’m talking about (you mean you aren’t employing the “!” reaction as a form of foreplay yet?), I shall offer up a sexample. Let’s say someone you’ve been hooking up with texts that they’d like to try, say, pegging. You could shoot back a flirty, cheeky message written in all in letters, or an eggplant emoji, or (or!) you could go with a subtle, yet evocative thumbs-up reaction. I know it may not seem groundbreaking at first blush, but when you consider it’s pretty much the digital equivalent of someone angling their feet toward you in real life (a surefire body-language sign that someone’s flirting), it seems like the start of a smartphone-era episode of Sex and the City.
Zhana Vrangalova, PhD, sexpert for luxury sex-toy brand LELO, draws a comparison between the transition from emojis to reactions and the not-so-long-ago shift from I love you to I <3 you. “It’s just a more efficient way of communicating,” she tells me. “You’re saying the same thing that you would have said in words. You’re now just saying it as an easy response to the text.”
We all know it’s obnoxious to respond to a carefully thought-out texted joke with a haphazard “haha” reaction. But can the same practice in sexting be…hot?
While research on the emoji revolution abounds, Dr. Vrangalova points out that there’s little—if any—data to show how text reactions are taken by the person receiving them. We all know it’s obnoxious to respond to a carefully thought-out texted joke with a haphazard “haha” reaction. But can the same practice in sexting be…hot? There’s really only anecdotal evidence. According to Alexandra Cooper and Sofia Franklin, hosts of the Barstool Sports Call Her Daddy podcast, the answer is f*ck yes.
On an episode from earlier this year, the duo discussed how to sext using the disappearing message, a feature you can use by holding down the blue arrow on your iPhone. Once you’ve sent the message, it appears as a swirl of dust that only turns into words once the recipient taps on it. And for that reason, Franklin and Cooper conclude the feature can be used to tease your S.O. with a saucy message interrupting an otherwise clothes-on conversation. It’s a Pavlovian response, really: The two of you can come to associate that message feature with steaminess (and bonus: no one can read the X-rated material over your shoulder). The secret and sensual code of sorts becomes a flirty, private display of affection.
“It’s in some ways more personal [than an emoji] because it’s attached directly to that particular text. Especially if it was something like a sexy photo or verbal sex of some sort.” —sexpert Zhana Vrangalova, PhD
“It’s in some ways more personal [than an emoji] because it’s attached directly to that particular text,” says Dr. Vrangalova. “Especially if it was something like a sexy photo or verbal sex of some sort.” That said, there will be a language barrier at first: Using a heart reaction instead of an alphabetical response to a new text might just prompt bae to think you’re feeling a little lazy. And the disappearing text could just be taken as a touch of pizzaz. It won’t be a seamless transition, but according to the doc, the optimal way to kick things off is just to try it out until the two of you find middle ground. As brand marketing strategist Lucas Quagliata illustrates in his reaction guide on Medium, the !, ?, etcetera have a time and a place that not everyone will initially agree upon.
To start, you’ll both have to be into the whole texting thing. If one of you would rather die than one-on-one with your thumbs, then reaction-based flirting might be more of a nuisance than anything else. And since many couples struggle with communication, Dr. Vrangalova recommends letting the messaging evolve on its own rather than sitting down and coming up with a pre-decided cipher for what each and every messaging accent means. Sex should be fun—not a chore—and the same goes for sexting. But for my money, the reaction-back is the new text-back.
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