You could spend ages crafting the perfect text in the hopes that your recipient will get that you have sex on the mind, or you could just pop in the right flirty emoji and call it a day. While it’s not an exact science — research on emojis is sorely lacking — Jocelyn Wentland, an adjunct psychology professor at the University of British Columbia Okanagan led a study on “sexual emoji,” or emoji used in sexually suggestive contexts. She and two other researchers found that from a pool of 693 participants, the six most commonly used emojis to denote sex were the smirking face, winking face, blowing a kiss face, tongue, eggplant, and sweat droplets.
Wait, what do those mean?
First off, check the context of your conversation. If you’re talking about ingredients for eggplant parmesan, chances are that the eggplant emoji actually stands for an eggplant. If you’re in a heated text flirtation, read on.
The smirking face is the modern day text equivalent of a suggestive wink, and implies the phrase, “if you know what I mean” — and what they mean is probably sex. Like smirking, winking, and blowing a kiss in real life do, all three of the face emojis can turn benign phrases into innuendo. (Of course, the blowing a kiss face can also just mean that you’re blowing a kiss.)
For the last three emojis, well — the tongue is a reference to oral sex, the eggplant refers to a phallus, and the droplets refer to — more or less — sexual fluids.
It seems emojis make it easier to hint at their intentions, as more than half of the participants said sending such emojis led to sexting. After all, communication is key in a relationship, and what is an emoji but a colourful representation of our feelings on top of otherwise black and white text? (Consider it a slightly subtler way of expressing interest.)
The most salient takeaway from the study, according to Wentland, was the number of respondents that said that they often use emoji to “test the waters” for new relationships or potential sexual partners. Emojis grant a safer way to make sure everyone is on the same page before you ease into more explicit messages. “I think that helps people because if you use an emoji, even if it was a little bit of a flirty one, say the wink face or the smirk face, you certainly won’t be identified as someone who is really pushing things with a potential romantic partner because they are so commonplace,” said Wentland.
What about the peach emoji? Isn’t that a popular one too?
While women are slightly higher users of flirty emojis, the major gender discrepancy comes from what the emoji portrays. “The emoji that are more considered to be associated with female genitals weren’t really shared as much,” Wentland said. Although she and her team included the OK hand and peach — which can indicate female genitalia, especially when used in conjunction with a pointing finger, and a butt, respectively — in their initial survey of sexy emojis, they weren’t nearly as popular as the eggplant.
Despite the size of the test pool, the same emoji were both commonly sent and received with almost no variation among all the participants. “It tells us that you can’t just use any emoji in a sexual context, there is a specific sexy dictionary of emoji that are being used and endorsed. And people just seem to know that,” said Wentland. A caveat — most of the participants were 30 years old or younger. If you didn’t know the lingo before, maybe now is the time to pick it up and avoid any awkward situations (or missed connections).