For Payal, a marketing manager from Ahmedabad, her first brush with sexting made her feel like a love-struck teenager, with ‘butterflies in her tummy’. “I was attracted to the man and when his compliments started getting sensual, I felt excited. It was hard to contain my giggles,” says the 35-year-old.
While sexting is popular in short-term affairs, experts claim those in long-term relationships benefit most from it. This flirty form of communication, which includes sexually suggestive texts, photographs or videos, is useful for both long-distance partners and those who live together.
“Sexting provides a sense of anonymity and works well for shy or reserved people. What one may not be able to convey face-to-face can be expressed through such communication,” Mansi Poddar, a psychotherapist from Kolkata, explains.
We spoke to couples and experts to understand how sexting can be used to positively impact relationships.
As a person who works extensively with digital tools, Shekhar, a 40-year-old illustrator from Pune was aware of the risks of sexting. “I was wary of third-party software accessing our private texts. So, my first discussion with my partner was around privacy,” he says.
In the digital world we live in, a message once sent can never be retrieved. The fear while sharing intimate pictures or videos, hence, is real. “Engaging in sexual conversations and sending sexy photos can be stimulating, but there is a worry of the messages being misused,” says Shreya Sharma-Tickoo, a psychologist from Gurugram.
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Although sending steamy texts to long-distance lovers can be gratifying, it raises questions of trust. When you meet someone regularly, you seem to have more control on the relationship. However, for long-distance sexting, worries like ‘will they share my photos with others’ or ‘will someone else have access to our intimate conversation’ can creep in.
Simar, a 33-year-old architect from Mumbai, faced this dilemma when she reconnected with her boyfriend. “We lived in different countries and started sexting. I was always concerned with privacy since I preferred sharing photos and videos,” she says.
Sharma-Tickoo suggests establishing boundaries and ideally engaging in sexting with trusted individuals. Discussions on how intimate information must remain private, even if partners go separate ways, is important. “Your motto should be safe sexting. If you don’t know someone well enough, it’s wise to use platforms that offer ‘disappearing photo’ features,” she adds.
Poddar suggests cropping the face or removing moles or birthmarks while sending photos or videos. “Also, please never use your office phones or laptops to send sexy messages to your beau!”
When a young married couple from Delhi began therapy to address issues of intimacy, their psychologist discovered that the wife was a sexual abuse survivor. The abuse, which had taken place when she was a child, had affected her relationship with her body and was now impacting her conjugal life.
While solo sessions helped the woman work on her trauma, couples therapy focused on creating a safe space for her when she was with her partner. Since she needed to work on her trauma before engaging in sexual activities, the psychologist suggested sexting as an alternative.
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Sexting helped the woman articulate her needs and anxieties and soon the couple created their own vocabulary around their desires. This helped her respond positively to her husband’s touch. According to the psychologist, sexting became an important tool of communication and healing for the couple.
Priyam, a 30-year-old sales manager from Hyderabad, claims sexting was a game changer for her. “I am in a long-distance relationship and we enjoy discussing about sex, which was missing from both our previous relationships. The communication is pleasurable and has brought us closer,” she says.
Aili Seghetti, intimacy, dating and relationship Somatica coach (a specific method and philosophy used for sex and relationship coaching) from Mumbai, suggests sexting for partners to negotiate what they are into and what they are open to trying. “For couples who have been married for many years, sexting works as a way of expressing desire, especially when things have become predictable,” she adds.
Consent and aftercare
Meeta, a communications consultant from Chandigarh, says there were instances when she didn’t want to indulge in sexting with her partner. Although she doesn’t regret doing it, she feels she shouldn’t have played along.
“I didn’t want to be a dampener or face the fact that I had begun to lose interest. Sexting became tiresome for me and frustrating for him, until we broke up,” says the 27-year-old.
To avoid such unpleasant experiences, Seghetti recommends initiating conversations with questions such as ‘I would love to get a little sexy on messages with you, how do you feel about that?’ or ‘What are some words or images I should avoid?’ or ‘What are you comfortable with?’.
In the absence of these discussions, sexting can turn into harassment and create unhealthy power dynamics between partners, who ideally should be free to withdraw consent or agree to sexting for a limited period of time or instance.
Things can backfire if a person assumes that a partner is equally willing or that since someone did it once they would do it again. “Also, don’t misinterpret ‘sexy’ photographs on a person’s social media as a chance to coerce them into sexting,” Sharma-Tickoo says.
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Thirty-year-old Aamira from Delhi claims sexting, when organic, makes her feel “desirable and empowered”. Experts agree that sexting releases happy hormones in the body and takes partners to an alternate state of consciousness. When consensual, it makes partners feel aroused, wanted and attended to. It prepares the body for real-life intimacy by reducing feelings of anticipation and can work wonders when partners are in sync.
“One must remember that aftercare is also important, without which partners can feel ignored, ashamed or guilty,” Poddar says.
Aftercare is checking in on what went great or bad during sexting. It helps partners understand each other better from a sexual and emotional perspective. Aftercare also involves discussions around privacy of messages exchanged.
“If a partner has refused sexting, aftercare should involve repair conversation around emotions that may have surfaced post the denial. This involves empathy, vulnerability and effective communication,” Seghetti says.
A world of fantasy
Being separated for work from her partner, sexting opened up a world of fantasy for 40-year-old Nalini from Bengaluru. As a writer, playing with words came naturally to her and sexting sent her imagination on a pleasure overdrive.
Seghetti agrees that fantasies are a great way to experience things that we normally wouldn’t do. “They set us free, so there’s no harm in using them. If imagining the other person naked is turning you on, why try to find out if they really are naked. Enjoy your fantasy!” she adds.
However, how far one uses their imagination depends on what works for a couple and the rules they have established for their sexual intimacy. Experts agree that while eroticism in the form of fantasy is okay when consensual, it is problematic when people distort facts to gratify partners. In such situations, it is a good idea to take a step back to reflect if your partner is making unrealistic or uncomfortable demands and how you may draw boundaries without shaming them.
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For 35-year-old Rupesh from Kolkata, sexting feels both safe and exciting as there is mutual consent and respect. “The thought that I can share my fantasies with my partner gives me an adrenaline rush,” he says.
Sexting, with its power to initiate intimate conversations and put sexual fantasies on the table, helps couples open up and connect on a deeper level.
“One may fantasise about threesomes or oral sex, but not wish to engage in them in real life. In such cases sexting helps,” Sharma-Tickoo says. “Talking about these fantasies, while being considerate of your partner’s boundaries, is healthier than stifling them.”
Debarati Chakraborty is an independent journalist, who writes on wellness, relationships and sexuality.