Sext: Let’s Switch to a Steamier App, America—Like Signal, WhatsApp or Snapchat

The joy of sext is on the rise.

According to new research conducted by the team behind the Clue app (for menstrual tracking) and the Kinsey Institute (which studies human sexuality), 67 percent of people are sexting. That bodes well for the rate of ambidexterity in the next few decades. When Kinsey looked into the same question in 2012, only 21 percent of people reported doing it mobile style.

Tip: Invest in screen protector manufacturers now. 

Based on Clue’s 140,000 responses from 198 countries, Americans are among the world’s most avid sexters, but they are also the likeliest to do their sexting over plain-old, vanilla SMS. That is, text messaging, the most basic way to send someone else your feels.

This is a sensitive topic and I want to tread lightly, but remember that this country has an especially aggressive intelligence gathering service that makes it its business to hoover up all the electronic communications it can. Basic text messaging apps really don’t protect what you have to say (or show) at all. 

If the NSA or other spies tap directly into a telecom, it can copy any unencrypted communication (text and images) and store that for later use. We’re pretty sure that the NSA is tapped in to American telecoms in just that way. The spooks have those photos you made of your arm bent so that it looks like a butt. I’m sorry, but they do. They will sit in Utah till the end of time.

Worse, if someone sets up a device that spoofs a cell phone tower (known as an IMSI catcher or a “stingray”), it can almost certainly copy any plain text messages sent from any phone connected. We know law enforcement uses these devices, though we don’t know how often. We also know that, for a technically savvy creep or snoop, that they aren’t that difficult to build one at home.

And today’s lover could be tomorrow’s adversary. At the end of too many liaisons, paramours turn to revenge porn, but technology empoers people to have the option of making some messages disappear after they have been … enjoyed.

Sexting. Flickr user @oneras

Here are three apps to consider, any one of which is better than your mobile’s default messaging app:

  • Signal, from Open Whisper Systems (iOS and Android). Most experts consider this the best choice for privacy and security. Signal has great encryption, so spies listening on wires or waves can’t read the content of your messages or sort out who you are talking to. Signal’s makers go out of their way not to know much about users. The only records it keeps of them are their phone numbers, the last time they connected and the date that number joined. Signal blocks screenshots and it gives users the option to make messages, photos, etc automatically disappear within a pre-set timeframe. If you set a self-destruct on a message, your recipient can’t change it. 
  • WhatsApp, from Facebook (iOS and Android). WhatsApp uses the same technology as Signal to encrypt your message contents, by default, so it’s just as protected from eavesdroppers. Facebook can’t even read your encrypted messages, but it definitely knows who you are talking to. Europe even fined Facebook over matching up WhatsApp users with their Facebook profiles. WhatsApp also lacks a way to make messages automatically disappear, which is a feature that young people really like (for understandable reasons).
  • Snapchat, from Snap, Inc (iOS and Android). Snapchat encrypts your messages in transit, but it doesn’t commit to encrypting them so that Snap itself can’t see them, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundations most recent ratings. Snap’s privacy policy says it deletes private messages and images after recipients have seen them, though. Plus, Snapchat pioneered disappearing messages, so your recipients expect to only see your images as long as they last. It’s good to stay in the moment anyway.

If you’re an iPhone user who absolutely only hooks up with fellow iPhone users, then it’s basically fine because texts between iPhone users are encrypted by default—but that’s a really weird fetish. There’s some hot Android users out there, too. Play it safe and download something else just in case someone surprises you.

Even for people who don’t care much about privacy, new lovers might. If the app they prefer is already on your phone then there will be less awkwardness when they want to slip a condom on your conversation. In fact, each of these apps will let users know if your contacts already use them, making the switch seamless for a partner who prefers digital whispers.

Fortunately, Snapchat is the second most popular way to sext in the U.S., and younger sexters are more likely to use it. Dick pics really should come and go, after all. So the future looks bright for safer sexting, but why wait?

If you’re in that majority of Americans giving digital thumb lovin’ the old fashioned way, step up your game: download one of these apps and stymie the creeps.