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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.

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