Sexts Are Supposed To Be Embarrassing. That’s Why They’re Private

I must defend the right to be a bad sexter.
Adam Levine wearing a pink short-sleeved button down, hunched over his microphone while performing on stage Adam Levine performing earlier this year. (Photo: Shlomi Pinto/Getty Images)

I saw the memes about Adam Levine’s texts before I knew the story behind them. Earlier this month, Instagram model Sumner Stroh, 23, took to TikTok to reveal that she had an affair with the married Maroon 5 frontman. The video included snippets of their text exchanges in which Levine expressed such thirsty sentiments as “It is truly unreal how fucking hot you are,” “That body of yours is absurd,” and—a particular favourite of Twitter—“I may need to see the booty.” It’s been assumed that Levine sent these messages behind the back of his wife, Victoria’s Secret model Behati Prinsloo, although at the time of writing this Prinsloo has yet to publicly comment, and I, along with the rest of the public, do not know the parameters of their marriage. Monogamy is the assumed default when discussing the relationships of strangers.

To be sure, there is plenty here that is worth raising eyebrows over. Levine is nearly twice Stroh’s age, and infinitely more famous, both of which give him more power in this situation. In a statement to TMZ, Levine admitted that his messages were inappropriate, but denied having an affair. I’m not going to argue that there absolutely no chance Levine has ever been predatory or coercive, but the leaked texts point to behaviour that is more low-grade sleazy than abusive.

And I don’t blame Stroh for making the videos or sharing the text exchanges. She says she was put in a terrible position: A friend that she had shared screencaps with threatened to sell the images to a tabloid, and Stroh wanted to get ahead of the story. Since then, Stroh has faced a barrage of online harassment, being called a “homewrecker” and a “slut.”

In comparison, Levine is getting out of this relatively unscathed, as men tend to. Attention has mostly focused on how his sexting style is lame. The messages (which were more flirtatious than explicit, but I’ll refer to them as “sexts” for brevity’s sake) are corny. They are unsmooth. They are also private messages exchanged between two consenting adults.

It has been decided that making fun of Levine’s private messages is fair game because he allegedly cheated on his wife, or because his band has played a Super Bowl halftime show. Since these are not the sexts that most people would want to be seen sending or receiving from their own partners, the rationale goes they must be bad. And while it goes against all my sensibilities to spend a beautiful fall morning logging on to defend a 43-year-old mid-tier pop star who sent horny messages to an Instagram model while his wife was pregnant with their third child, I must defend the right to be a bad sexter.

I sext. A lot. I sext over dating apps with people I’ve never met and have no intention of meeting. I sext with long-term partners, people I’ve known for years. It’s not that I prefer sexting to physical intimacy, it’s that the former is simply easier—I’m a slut but I’m also lazy. It’s nice to get off with someone else without changing out of your sweatpants or thinking about the commute home later. Sexting also lends itself well to a certain kind of freedom. Remove the physical parts of sex and suddenly it’s a lot easier to play make believe. I’ve role-played every kind of scenario over my phone. I’ve had partners that I’ve slept with dozens of times reveal their most intimate fantasies over text message, having been given permission by the fact that it’s often easier to type out what cannot be said. Sexting can be fun, liberating and intimate.


Have I been concerned about my sexts being posted publicly? Sure, especially when my public-facing job included being a children’s book reviewer (though since publishing an adult novel about a woman who loves sexting I’ve become less concerned about ruining my image). Unlike whispering something in your partner’s ear during the throes of passion, sexting leaves a record of your concretely expressed desires on another person’s phone, where they can live in perpetuity between the family groupchat and a reminder of an upcoming dentist appointment. I’ve reread my own sexts the morning after a particularly hot night. They are excruciating. I imagine that if the best IRL sex I’ve had was recorded in some way, it would also appear to be unbearable and awkward to witness later. When you’re in the moment, you don’t want to be conscious of how your desires will appear to a wider audience. Adam Levine was not composing messages to be read by hundreds of thousands of strangers. He was sending messages to a specific recipient.

To be clear: Not every sexually charged message is a sext. Recently, an investigative report came out about Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler, who was accused of sexual assault. Part of the investigation revealed he had messaged multiple people pictures of his genitalia after they expressed that they were not interested. His explicit messages were shared with Pitchfork journalists within context to show how his messages were not welcome (and still, the journalists who broke the story managed to only share what was necessary to the reporting). There’s a difference between sexual misconduct and an extramarital affair. The story of a man who uses his position to coerce young fans into engaging in activity with which they’re clearly uncomfortable is different from the story of a man who was horny on Instagram with a younger but receptive partner.

Every time I send an explicit message, I understand the risk involved, the same way I understand the risk when sharing a photo, or going to a stranger’s house on a date (I am a woman, after all). And yet, were they to leak to the public, I would feel violated. I honestly don’t care about Adam Levine’s career—which will likely be fine—but I believe everyone deserves the right to express their sexual selves in private. That right does not go away because a person was allegedly unfaithful, or because they’re in the public eye.

I often wonder what a sext that was acceptable to the masses would look like. Sex is personal, and what’s considered hot changes radically between different individuals. A universal sext would be ultimately neutral, with a superficially benign veneer that reveals no real vulnerability, no personality, no eroticism and no messy human desire. It would be the text equivalent to a Marvel movie, a midwestern politician, a Subway sandwich, a Maroon 5 song.


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