After a year of (often awkward) attempts to achieve intimacy over screens, the promise of post-vaccine physical closeness is a seductive one. People can hardly be blamed for itching to leave digital intimacy behind them, especially if they’re unpartnered and went without touch for much, or even all, of the pandemic.
But Brianna Rader isn’t one of those people. Mostly because, to her, digital intimacy and physical intimacy don’t sit in separate camps. Approached correctly, the former can be used as a tool to enhance the latter.
“I don’t see digital intimacy and physical intimacy as mutually exclusive,” Rader tells GO. “I think sexting is a beautiful tool to use when you’re first getting to know someone or when you don’t really know what your partner enjoys in bed… It’s a great way to check in and say what you think is hot and figure out what they think is hot.”
Having these conversations over a screen, she adds, isn’t just fun as a standalone event. It also helps create a blueprint for a more satisfying time in the bedroom.
“A lot of people get embarrassed in person when you’re half-naked, really vulnerable and you don’t know what to say,” she says. “When you’ve already had these difficult conversations from the protection of your screen, people may feel more comfortable explicitly sharing what their desires are and where their boundaries are and asking questions… You shouldn’t wait to have a conversation about sex until you’re already in bed and your clothes are off.”
Rader’s support of sexting makes sense. After all, the sexual wellness company she co-founded and is CEO of, Juicebox, has been generating buzz — and, in January, $1.5 million in funding — for Slutbot, its premier product that teaches users how to sext. Billed as the “ultimate friend with benefits,” Rader describes Slutbot as simulating the experience of “texting a smart, seasoned lover” who has, according to user preference, either a vulva or a penis. Featuring content crafted by sex educators and erotica writers, the bot sits at — dare I say straddles? — the intersection of fantasy and education, combining sexy storytelling with tips and practical advice.
“No one wants to learn sex education by looking at a chalkboard or looking at a PowerPoint or downloading an app that says, ‘Learn how to communicate!’” Rader says. “That’s so lame. We’re talking about sex. There has to be a way to make it exciting.”
Rader’s belief in sex education that’s exciting and accessible goes back to her time in college. Growing up and going to school in conservative Tennessee, Rader, who identifies as queer, decided to found a non-profit that brought inclusive, sex-positive education to her fellow university students. Though she was legally condemned by the state of Tennessee in the process, she wasn’t deterred, and today Slutbot is in many ways a continuation of that work. It’s about empowering people to express their desires, as well as giving them the tools and savvy needed to realize them.
“Our product gives you the language and confidence to go ask for what you want in your sex life,” Rader says. “We don’t have role models for our sex lives, since sex is inherently private. And so people look to porn or to the media for their role models. Those sources are purely engineered for entertainment, which is problematic, whereas ours is engineered slightly toward entertainment, but we keep that educational piece in there. So it’s a healthier role model.”
As a sextech founder and sexting expert, Rader is a bit of a role model herself in this space. Below, she shared with GO her top tips for a healthy sext life — one you’ll want to continue long after the pandemic is over.
- Get on the same page, and get permission.
“For instance, you meet someone new — I wouldn’t just jump into sexting out of the blue,” Rader says. “I would probably say something like, ‘How do you feel about sexting?’ or ‘How do you feel about nudes?’ Just to get a temperature check and make sure you’re on the same page.”
- Escalate with care.
“Consider the tone. Is it playful and sweet? Or is the tone super filthy?” Rader says. “You should tip-toe toward escalating, and that actually makes for a fun conversation, instead of jumping to level 10.”
- Model vulnerability.
“You should reveal intimate aspects of yourself to build trust instead of just outright demanding it,” she says. “If you do reveal more about yourself, then your partner is going to be down to share more… so instead of saying ‘Tell me this’ or ‘Send me this photo,’ you should do it yourself first to model vulnerability and intimacy. And then it’s going to be even sexier for your partner to feel comfortable doing so themselves.”
- Don’t leave them hanging.
“Lag time is totally fine, but when you’re having these intimate, sexy, vulnerable conversations, it’s super not cool to just, like, drop off and go run a bunch of errands,” she says. “That’s totally fine if you’re just talking about the weather or sports or something. But I think transparency is super key.”
If you do need to take a break, Rader adds, there’s a sensitive way to do it.
“You should say, ‘I’ll be gone for a few hours and get back to you soon,’ because otherwise your partner is going to be freaking out on the other end and thinking they shared something they shouldn’t have.”
- Don’t be coy.
“This is actually a pet peeve of mine — I don’t think it’s cool to be coy,” Rader says. “I wish everyone would get rid of this idea that being coy is sexy. It’s not sexy. You’re just playing games and manipulating people. It’s okay to play cool and hang back, but don’t do it just to manifest mystery. Playing games or fostering confusion is actually manipulative, and it’s not something that’s sexy or attractive.”
- Use Dan Savage’s formula.
For those who don’t know where to start when writing a sext, Rader recommends using author and LGBTQ+ activist Dan Savage’s formula of three basic frameworks:
- Say what you’re going to do.
“Over sext or IRL, explain what you’re about to do,” she says. “An example of this would be: ‘I would love to kiss your neck…’”
- Say how it feels.
“Describe what it feels like,” she says. “An example would be: ‘It feels so good the way you’re grabbing my hip…’”
- Say what you just did.
“Describe what you just did in past-tense,” she says. “An example would be, ‘I loved the way your legs shook under me…’”