In the age of selfie sticks, Snapchat, swiping right and left, and #IPhotographEverythingIEatAndWear (guilty as charged), it’s no surprise that we have also taken sex and intimacy into the digital world. But even before the days of Skype and Facetime (and thus Skype sex), before we had smartphones and used brick-like cells, we knew how to text. And if we knew how to text, we knew how to sext.
Sexting is huge—adults and teenagers anywhere from England to India are doing it. Just like our grandmothers wrote sexy letters to their lovers (perhaps sprinkled with quotes by Anais Nin), sexting is our way of intimate and/or sexual communication. And from what I hear, it’s bloody great.
Fascinated with this form of interaction, filmmaker Eileeen Yaghoobian launched the project Send Me Your Sexts. For just 80 bucks (loose change, really), you can get your “steamiest, silliest, or most shocking” sexts acted out by professional actors. Birthday gift for your lover alert. The resulting videos are part documentary, part performance art, complete with a grainy look and games parlor into, which call to mind the cult B-movies of my childhood. The most contemporary form of communication mixed with a bit of nostalgia? I was intrigued. So over Skype from Istanbul to Vancouver, I chatted to Eileen about what sexting reveals about relationships, what she thinks about censorship, and why I should get into sexting (spoiler alert: she’s convinced me).
How did the idea for Send Me Your Sexts come about?
Well it was the summer of 2013, I had just seen The Act of Killing, which came out not long before, and it’s a really good example of the use of reenactment in documentary. At the same time, I was sexting a lot, and you know when you sext, I don’t know if you sext…
…people share stuff. And I was talking to friends and we’re looking at each other’s sexts, and then I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if these were made into a video? And I just went for it. The actors came and it was amazing hearing them say these words. It just kind of worked. Once the idea got rolling, people started sending me sexts, show-and-tell like, including pictures! The stories are crazy good—one guy sent 132 sexts in 23 days to a girl he just met… I picked Dylan and Kacey for my first video because it’s a nice combo of sex and text. And then I kept doing them, and I was learning new things about privacy and bringing these private spaces into public spaces.
There’s something about the intimacy of sexting and something fascinating about the intent of it too. Language is very important. You can tell a lot about a person’s character from the way they use language.
Sexting can happen at all phases of a relationship. It could be a pick-up, a break up, part of an intense relationship, when someone’s missing someone.
What kind of things does sexting reveal about people’s relationships?
Many things. For example, in the video with Dylan and Kacey, Kacey reveals this deep reality about herself. Because they’re not in the same space, Dylan could easily be fucking someone else at the same time. That video says a lot about expectations. And because of the nature of this type of communication, Dylan’s responses come across cold. But the juxtaposition of them fucking and her confessing makes it brutal drama—full of tension and humor.
Or the Carrie and Kristopher video, which shows how when you’re sexting someone and you’re in a different space, there’s a freedom to say things that you wouldn’t necessarily say if you were in the same space.
So the first video you did was from your own sext?
It was one person’s sexts. I can’t say who it was because of privacy issues. Let’s just say, it could be and it could not be me or whoever else. But I can’t say.
One lazy journalist said, “You could do this as performance art but it’s a lifetime of shame.” But we change everybody’s names and it’s totally anonymous. People need to feel safe when they’re submitting sexts to my site.
It’s also interesting that that journalist thought sexting was shameful.
I know. Why is it shameful?
That’s the bigger question.
And it’s a North American question actually. It’s interesting that you’re in Turkey or even the UK, because I found that there’s a different attitude towards it in the North American press. There’s this kind of idea that it’s embarrassing or shameful, but I don’t think it is at all. It’s a way to communicate; it’s a modern language.
It’s kind of like European cinema being a lot more comfortable with sex scenes and nudity than Hollywood, although maybe that’s changing…
Maybe it’s changing on the surface. It’s like [a story on sexting] is too risky for the mainstream press, but is it really? (Laughs). I don’t know. But I’ve been covered by press in Italy, Germany, the UK, and Vice in Sweden. So a lot of European press. And someone in Japan. And the initial press in North America, I had this shameful comment, which was weird. But it was happening around the same time Andrew Weiner send his dick pic to everyone, so maybe that’s why. But it’s like, who cares. The only person who should care is his wife.
And so there are seven videos on the website. Are they all from customers?
Yes, they’re all submissions. It’s going to take time for people to submit as it’s a new idea. People need to feel safe about it.
And what would you say is the main reaction you’re hoping to elicit from viewers?
Firstly, I think the videos are really funny. But also it’s just an interesting window into the way we communicate with one another—through the phone in a sexual way. A sex expert recently described my project as redefining porn. My videos are not porn, but they’re basically foreplay. The narrative is very important because it provides a glimpse into real people’s lives and into what their intentions are with one another. The idea is for people to see these videos and submit their own because there’s something so amazing about having your language reenacted by actors. And I think you can be funny and sexy at the same time. People are laughing when they watch the videos. I mean, did you laugh?
Totally. The latest one, Ted and Holly, is funny.
Yes! And I also keep the dates and times when the sexts were sent. And if you look at the time when Ted was texting, it was on weekend nights, so basically booty calls, and he did this over a two-month period. So it says something about his character. He doesn’t get it! Holly doesn’t reply back to him, she only says “there’s no guarantees,” but he keeps messaging her between the hours of 3 and 8 am. So what’s his intent? SEX, of course! What’s hers? NOT WITH HIM!
Are you getting more sexts from guys or girls?
So far, it’s been equal. And it’s also been just straight relationships so far. Anyone can send me their sexts so I would like people in all kinds of relationships to submit (laughs).
What’s the best or weirdest sext you’ve received so far?
I think the Laura and Jamie one. They’ve just met up, it’s a pick-up, and he’s going down on her, and confesses that he likes a combination of boobs and dick. It says a really core thing about his reality.
What if a client doesn’t want his/her video on the website?
Part of it is that it is for the web. It’s a service but it’s also a web series.
What’s the process of a making one of these videos? Do you always work with the same crew? How do you cast actors?
I cast based on the text. I think about the actors who would be good for the roles or find actors and then ask them to read for me. It’s very character-based. We rehearse the scenes and the actors are very much part of bringing the scenes to life. For the tennis one, Johnny and Brenda, the person who sent in the text told me that the actress was just like his girlfriend. And it was all based on the language. The actor did a fantastic job representing this person in real life even though she didn’t know anything about her.
There’s actually a funny story about this video. These old ladies came when we were shooting on location and told us they couldn’t take this language, ‘cause it was so sexual, so could we please take a coffee break. I was thinking, why are you listening in? (Laughs.)
Are any kind of sexts unacceptable? Is there anything you would censor or think, woah that’s pretty full-on, or would you still find a way to tell the story?
It’s my interpretation of the sexts. It’s all part of being human. Whatever it is, even if it’s the sickest thing that we could think, it’s being human. But being a documentarist, I’m not going to judge or censor.
Why do you think sexting is becoming such a big part of our culture?
Because everyone communicates and this is taking on different forms with technology. It’s become more norm. There’s still this certain attitude towards it, the shameful stuff, but I don’t think that’s going to be around for much longer. Well, I hope.
Do you think sexting is part of a healthy sex life? Is sexting different people at a time the same as having actual sex with different people at the same time?
I can’t judge that. It’s a good question though. I’m sure people sext simultaneously to different people. When you’re sexting, you’re not actually having sex. I mean you could be… And a lot of people who are in relationships are sexting other people. It’s like watching porn for some people. Some people get off at the sext stage and not even getting to the sex part, they get on from sexting strangers. But it’s not really a question for me because I’m not a sex therapist.
I think sexting is the perfect inspiration for making videos. They’re current, and filled with creativity, tension, real drama and humor. The material is hilarious. I mean you can’t make this stuff up. What’s so interesting about sexting is that once you hit send, it’s not made up anymore. It’s real and that’s where the story is.
In a way, you’re using sexting to look at human nature.
Yep. And it’s fun to do and I love the results.
Are you into sexting?
Yeah, I am (laughs). You should start. I wasn’t into it. I was kind of forced into it but the more I did it, the more I loved it.
Forced into it?
I didn’t understand it. I’m not a technology person that way. I make connections with people in real life rather that on the internet, so it was interesting to have someone want me to sext them. I wasn’t comfortable at first, but the more I did it, the more I liked it, and realized how fun it was. I didn’t initiate it though. I don’t think people are born sexters. They just get into somehow or another. I’ve had friends who have become sexters because I’ve launched this project.
In 2008, you made the documentary Died Young, Stayed Pretty, which is about the underground poster culture in North America. You’re obviously into subculture. What draws you to these kinds of topics?
It’s what I’m interested in. In Died Young, Stayed Pretty, I loved the imagery these music fans used to create the posters. They took this old Americana imagery and there’s this weird, strange humor to these posters. I like the underbelly of things and the way people choose to communicate. But I kind of took the idea of these poster designers making these great, silkscreen posters and selling them at gigs for really cheap and applied it to Send Me Your Sexts. There’s something about bringing that accessibility to people. I mean, what’s $80? I wanted to provide an affordable service where people could have professional actors act their sexts. So people can have their own little indie scene.
Well, thanks, Eileen, that’s all my questions.
You’re welcome. It’s interesting that you don’t sext. Maybe next time we talk, you’ll send me a sext.
All images courtesy of sendmeyoursexts.com.