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Textual gratification: Quill or keypad, it's all about sex Add to ...

RL: U should see me, naked with only white cotton G-string.DB: Love the sound of that cotton just *** *** getting more*** and your *** all nice *** ***.And they say the age of romance is over.

Okay, it's not quite Robert Browning telling Elizabeth Barrett Browning she is a "gorgeous bird" united in "the beauties of form, plumage, and song."

But the infamous text messages allegedly exchanged between David Beckham and his scorned assistant, Rebecca Loos, are proof that whether you give us a quill or a keypad, we're going to use it to try to get laid.

Nudie pictures helped cameras catch on; porn got a start in film and went on to make video and then the Internet huge. Chat rooms are full of dirty talk and spicy e-mail has launched many an on-line affair. And just as our ancestors were fascinated with the amorous exchanges of Napoleon et al, whether it's overhearing Charles wanting to be Camilla's tampon or watching Pam's and Paris's home movies, the combination of technology, sex and celebrity is impossible to resist.

Now, text messaging (also known as Short Message Systems or SMS) has become the new phone sex, with the British press weighing in about the ethics of "having a textie" and readers all over the world trying to fill in the media-imposed asterisks.

As a Luddite e-mailer, I find text messaging a bit tiresome. It's hard to build passion when it takes you 10 minutes to peck out "U R hot" on a cellphone keypad. Its many converts insist it gets easier; in fact, it can become addictive.

But is it cheating? "Texting is the modern way to flirt and if you ask most men, it's totally harmless," Martin Daubney, editor of British men's magazine Loaded, was widely quoted as saying. "Women believe men are unfaithful if they think about being unfaithful. Most men only think the actual sex act is full-blown unfaithful. All the rest is just a laugh.

"That's why we can be shameless text flirters. And the reason we're much more prepared to text than speak is that it's loads easier."

So user beware: For many people, "sext messaging" has a disinhibiting effect, like having a couple of cocktails.

Long popular in Europe and Asia as a cheaper alternative to land lines and cellphone airtime, texting is also changing the way we relate to the opposite sex. In England, it's being used as a medium for setting up anonymous sexual encounters. In Australia, text messaging is the medium of choice for young people, who use their phones more often to type than to speak. And in India, texting is being blamed for promoting "Western-style dating."

Toronto's Mike Prentice, a 31-year-old masters student in anthropology and Asia/Pacific studies, got into text messaging while living in Indonesia a few years ago. He says the medium emboldened his normally conservative house mates. "They got braver when text messaging, and said things they definitely wouldn't say in person to each other. It was never overly racy, but for a woman to text-message something like 'I had a sex dream about you' was pretty ballsy."

Text messaging lends itself to sexy communication because it's candid, says Grace Belmonte, director of marketing for Nokia Canada. With a limited number of characters allowed on the tiny cellphone screen, messages need to be short, encouraging abbreviations and "emoticons," punctuation marks used to convey expression, like the smiley faces used in e-mail.

People also like it because they see it as discreet. "If you're in a meeting and you don't want to interrupt it to tell someone something, you can text-message it and no one is the wiser," Belmonte says.

But the feeling of security can be misleading, as the Beckham case indicates. Some phones will store many messages, which can be accessed later by others. That's why Ken Truffen, director of wireless data marketing for Bell Mobility, says text messagers should lock their phones when not using them.

A survey last year by an Italian company found that in almost nine out of 10 investigations, extramarital affairs were betrayed by mobile phones. Undeleted text messages and inexplicable phone records were the reason 87 per cent of affairs were discovered, Miriam Ponzi, president of Tom Ponzi Investigations, told Australia's Sun-Herald newspaper.

"New technology has changed the way affairs are conducted and detected in the 21st century," she said. "When someone is having an affair and they receive an SMS, they don't want to cancel the message. They keep it because they read it afterwards when they're alone."

While the British sent a staggering 20.5 billion text messages last year, Canadians have a long way to go. But things are heating up here too: Belmonte says that in 2003, about 350 million text messages were sent in Canada, double the previous year. Not surprisingly, the biggest growth market for text messaging is the 16-24 set.

"Youth are so into it because they're so used to being connected," Belmonte says. "IM [instant messaging]is second nature to them so they already know the language and the short cuts. They live on the computer so with text messaging, they can take their communication device with them."

And if you're in high school and want to ask a girl to a dance, being rejected through text messaging is less embarrassing than face to face. Plus, it's fun to receive a text message "smile" or to send your honey a quick message telling him you're thinking about him.

"It's like leaving love notes," Belmonte says.

Then again, the younger set has a lot more time to kill.

Prentice admits that he spent entire afternoons text-messaging, sometimes keeping three or four "conversations" going at a time. "You have to keep your thumbnail trimmed and I got a weird little callous on the side of my thumb," he laughs.

And while he did rely heavily on text messaging to keep in touch with his strictly Muslim Indonesian girlfriend, who lived on another island, he kept things pretty tame because "she wasn't supposed to be having sex outside marriage."

Which brings us to text messaging etiquette. What are the rules?

First, practise "safe text": If it's in cyberspace, it's never 100-per-cent secure.

Keep it light. While millions of people are using it to set up dates, texting is not the place for heavy discussions about your relationship. It's also not the way to break things off.

Nor is it okay to message one romantic partner when you are with another. Gaynor Black, a 49-year-old graphic designer, was with her lover in Turkey when he messaged his wife. "I didn't get bent out of shape about it because I was seeing a married man, after all, but I also felt it would have been more tactful for him to at least leave the room to write back," Black says.

Camera phones are poised to make things even more complicated. But again, you clearly should not be pulling out your picture phone and showing the lads in the pub naughty pictures of your lover.

Other rules to follow: Keep it short and sweet. Text messaging may be the new love letter, but it's better as a haiku than a sonnet. Restrict yourself to little notes, pithy comments or jokes, or co-ordinates for getting together.

Oh, and don't axe your assistant after you've been exchanging steamy text messages.

Josey Vogels is a nationally syndicated sex columnist and author. Her new book -- Bedside Manners: Sex Etiquette Made Easy -- will be published by Harper Collins in June.

Sext messaging

While Beckham's alleged exchanges with his paramours were steamy, they were also painfully literal, compared to the acronym-laden texting style favoured by the younger generation.

The Internet abounds with sites for improving your grasp of the lingo, such as acro.harvard.edu/GEI/smileys.html and http://www.acronymfinder.com.

For those who want to get fancy, there are also sites devoted to "emoticons," punctuation used to enhance communication (or just to show off, using for instance, @}--- to send someone a rose).

Emoticon sites include http://www.cknow.com/ckinfo/emoticons.htm and http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ringtones/smileys-emoticons-sms.htm.

Below, a list of common acronyms no would-be texter should be without.

2BCTND To be continued

2GFU Too good for you

4YEO For your eyes only

BBIAM Be back in a minute

BBN Bye bye now

BML Biting my lip

CM Call me

CUL Call you later

CUL8R See you later

DEGT Don't even go there

DUR? Do you remember?

DTS Don't think so

EG Evil grin

F2F Face to face

GB Goodbye

GR8 Great

HHIS Hanging head in shame

HRU How are you

IYKWIM If you know what I mean

IYSS If you say so

JAS Just a sec

LOL Laughing out loud

LUAC Lighting up a cigarette

OMG Oh my God

RSN Real soon now

SITD Still in the dark

SorG Straight or gay?

SUL See you later

SUP What's up?

SUS See you soon

TY Thank you

WFR Waiting for reply

WTMPI Way too much personal information

X! Typical woman!

Y! Typical man!

YGG You go girl

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