On one hand, sexting too soon, or sexting the wrong way (more on this in a bit) can scare off the new girl you’re seeing in a matter of seconds (and get you in a lot of trouble yourself), and on the other, sexting can seriously amplify the sexual satisfaction in your relationship—at least that’s what research from the American Psychological Association implies. Read more about that—and find out why you might want to consider sexting more—here

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So, we asked Emily deAyala, a psychotherapist who specializes in sex therapy, and president and clinical director of Houston Sex Therapy, to help you navigate sexting for the first time whether you’re with a new girl, or trying to grow closer and spice things up in a long term relationship. “The brain and body respond positively when we engage in something novel,” deAyala says. “Neurochemicals are released when we engage in risky* behavior with someone we have a romantic interest in, which can create a bonding effect in the relationship,” she adds. With these tips, general rules, and advice, you can feel comfortable sexting and taking your relationship to the next level.

*Disclaimer: The keyword here is risky. Keep in mind sexting can get you in to trouble so be smart about it if you choose to do it. 

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Wait for the right moment

Timing is key when it comes to nearly every phase of a relationship. A missplaced move or kiss can send your budding romance into shambles. But nothing is more time sensitive than sending a sext. Doing it too soon can send the wrong message to your partner (unless, of course, you just want sex; in which case this will make that very clear). Wait until you’ve at least shared a kiss before you even think about becoming sexual over the phone. You know, the whole walk before you run idea. Start slow. Once you’ve been intimate, “see how your partner responds to something more benign like, ‘I’ve been thinking of that kiss all day,'” deAyala says. This can clue you in on whether or not she’s open to hearing more. “If she responds curtly or awkwardly, it may be best to back off; if she replies in a way that suggests she felt excited by the text, take that as the yellow light to proceed,” she adds. We repeat: Yellow. Light. It’s best to proceed with caution. Too much, too soon may cause her to shut down, especially if it’s still early on in the relationship.

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Use your head

For women especially, foreplay starts well before she ever reaches the bedroom. And the way to her heart (then into bed) is through her brain. “Sexting can be a great way to stimulate your partner’s brain, which will help her body respond more strongly when you get to the bedroom,” deAyala says. Remember guys, women are less visual than you. You’re more likely to get all jazzed up from a picture, whereas she’s more likely to have a sexual response to the things you say. “Why do you think romance novels (as opposed to porn) have become so popular for women?,” deAyala adds. (Hello, Fifty Shades of Grey.) Her suggestion: You may want to invest more time fine-tuning your writing skills than fine-tuning your abs when it comes down to sexting. 

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Throw in some emojis

“Using emoji’s in a sexual context can be a fun way to test the waters with a new partner, or when initiating a sext for the first time with a long term partner,” deAyala says. See how she responds to some of the more flirtacious emojis (the winky face is a solid go-to; stay away from fruits, vegetables, rockets, and the like…). That can provide clues as to whether or not she’s open to more at some point in the future. Actually, a survey from Match.com found 54 percent of emoji users had sex in 2014 compared to 31 percent of singles who didn’t use them, TIME reports. According to the study, emoji users also have more sex and go on more dates. The reason? It’s hard to judge tone in text messages, but emojis bridge that gap; they imply emotional and sexual interest. It’s easier to gauge whether a girl likes you back and takes some of the guesswork out of the equation. Add some emojis to up the ante on your texting game. Just don’t overwhelm her. You want moderation, not inundation.  

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Be (very) careful with photos

If you want to send a pic, proceed at your own risk. And please, don’t send one unless you feel 100 percent confident your girl will respond positively (and she won’t send it to someone else. And you’re not worried about going in to politics in the future. And… you get it.) Still want to proceed? Steer clear of sending anything early in the morning (that’s really not how she wants to start her day), late at night (when you’re incredibly intoxicated), or in the middle of the workday (innocently opening a picture or Snapchat can turn into sexual harassment in the office). Assuming all of the previously described signs were there (i.e. she’s flirtacious with you via text message, and the two of you have been intimate), start by asking her to send something seductive to you. Don’t be crude; tell her you want her to feel comfortable, and not pressured to send something overtly sexual, or include her face. “It’s more romantic to a woman if you say something like, ‘I love the curve of your waist. Can you send me a picture of just that part of your body?,'” deAyala says. This is a very sensitive, touch-and-go type of situation. Only initiate and have this conversation if you’re been seeing each other for a while, you’re comfortable with one another, and you’ve done other forms of sexting.

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Lay down some ground rules

If you want to take sexting to the next level and exchange photos, have a conversation about the boundaries beforehand. Doing something risky, like sending pics, will create excitement and anticipation in your relationship, but it can also harbor a ton of anxiety, distrust, and anger if things go south. What we mean is it’s every woman’s worst fear that someone other than you will see her sexts. Whether you’re bragging to your friends, have the photo saved to your camera roll, or leave your conversation open, her pictures being seen is a huge breach of privacy. “You need to make sure the two of you are on the same page about how long, where, and how the pictures will be stored,” deAyala says. Now that there’s an app for practically everything, there’s no reason not to give her the peace of mind and comfort knowing her pictures are kept in a place where no one else can see. “Check out some of the ‘vault’ apps that allege themselves to be a safer storage option than the photo album on your phone,” she adds. Or, vow to delete the photos once she sends them (and have her do the same), so there’s no risk of someone accidentally stumbling across them. 

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