It’s 10.30pm on a school night and I’m getting into bed when my phone buzzes, alerting me to a new message in a Whatsapp group I’m part of with three close girl friends. It’s a picture, with the message: “Feeling fierce tonight, ladies.” But staring back at me is not a glam selfie or a killer outfit choice: it’s a pair of boobs.
“Looking HOT,” I type in reply, before the other girls respond with similar messages and a cascade of positive emojis. Before long, we’ve all taken artful nude shots and shared them with each other, enjoying a veritable love-in of praise and compliments. Then I turn my phone off and go to sleep.
This is frexting (friends + sexting), and it’s putting empowerment and bonding firmly at the forefront of a practice that has traditionally had a male focus.
There’s no sexual arousal here. We don’t share these pictures with each other to get our rocks off, but to instead appreciate one another’s beauty and sexiness in a way that many straight men can’t. If you send a sexy picture to a boyfriend, the aim is to elicit thoughts of the two of you together, or to hint at what might happen later on. Share a sexy snap with a stranger from the internet and the experience hinges on you using your body to gratify them visually. Send a suggestive picture to a male friend, of course, and they’ll either burst into flames or throw their phone into the sea.
But here, the pressure to conform to a sexy ideal is off. We all have big butts and stretch marks and our tits aren’t as perky as the ones we’re relentlessly confronted with in porn (with the exception of one friend in particular whose boobs are outrageously upstanding), but we know what our own bodies look like and so we know what other women’s bodies look like – in real life. It’s a totally freeing experience to say “Hey, I’m feeling really good today, check me out,” without contorting into inhuman positions to hide bellies or trowling on filters to disguise cellulite.
There’s no judgement in frexting, because the predominant objective is not about making the receiver feel good (beyond making a bold statement of trust, of course), but to share our own positive vibes with the people we care about most. Are we seeking validation? Possibly. Frexting is a very deliberate extension of the old notion that women dress not for men but for other women, and that their approval resonates more deeply with our self-esteem than men’s approval. But it’s not validation born of comparison, because we’re willing to put our own flaws on the line to reassure each other that we look bloody great the way we are. It’s not “Are your love handles wobblier than mine?” but rather “Hey, here are my love handles so I don’t care about yours.”
Of course, there are many ways to get a validation-fix online, #selfie being one of the most prevalent. But even here I see countless examples of women apologising for owning their hotness. “Gratuitous selfie!” they’ll say. Or “Sorry about the blatant selfie but…”. We live in a world obsessed with physical appearances but still feel the need to justify feeling good about ourselves lest we be labelled vain or arrogant. When I frext with my girls there’s none of that.
Plus, it’s fun! If I feel like celebrating my butt (because I like to think it’s one of my best features and I ain’t gonna apologise for that), then I can send a quick pic to my friends, we have a giggle and inevitably the conversation will segueway into something else, and it’s not a big deal. This isn’t the case with a bloke, where the dynamic is vastly different and such a frivolous picture would be taken very seriously indeed.
Predictably, most of the guys I spoke to about this were initially bemused, unable to see the merit of frexting if getting a sexy kick wasn’t its main driving force. “What’s the point of it?” one of them said. “If I sent a picture like that to a male friend they’d freak out.” Much like women do when confronted with an unsolicited dick pic, of course. Frexting is a fun and empowering way for women to strengthen their bonds and feel attractive, and they’re using a traditionally male-focused activity to do so but without the males, so I suppose it’s no surprise that blokes don’t understand it.
Before I pitched this article, I spoke to my frexting buddies to ask for their permission – after all, it’s probably not too hard to figure out who they are if you know me personally. I thought they might ask me to write under a pseudonym or at the very least express some hesitation, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. They were totally up for it and even sent the fabulous pictures you see here to use alongside this article. “I think maybe a year ago I would have been worried about it,” one of them told me. “But now, I don’t care. I feel good about myself and why should I be embarrassed about that?”
Main image: iStock/Antonio Diaz