Let’s all first agree with the fact that this lockdown has impacted people’s sex lives in a major way. Just like how communication technology has been helpful in solving other problems, it has both solved and created new problems. As more and more people who have access to phones and internet spend most of their time on it, one important aspect of people’s lives that has seen a rise has been sexting (and/or phone sex chatting).
But first let’s clear any doubts one may have. Let’s start with ‘What is sexting?’
Well, sex + text = sext. Sending sexual messages, photos, GIFs, videos or even emojis to someone else via texting apps. Simple enough.
Yet what seems not so simple are the unwritten rules of sexting. While the recent issue of Boys Locker Room online groups highlighted the various issues of male entitlement, non-consensual sharing of private pictures, objectification of women’s bodies, body-policing etc, it also made many people sit up and take notice of much a larger cultural problem – the general lack of basic gender and sex education.
How is this linked to sexting? Here are some basic rules broken down as FAQs.
1. Are there some guidelines to understanding consent in the online sphere?
The rules of consent do not change no matter where you are. Just like in the offline world, consent is all about communication: it should happen every time you engage with anyone. Giving consent for one activity once, does not mean giving consent for all other sexual contact/activity. The online space does not absolve anyone from violating a partner’s trust.
2. How does one ensure that the chats/pictures, etc remain private? Is there a way of safeguarding your information? Are there any platforms safer than others?
Honestly, there is no way technologically to ensure that chats or pictures can remain private as anyone can take screenshots of private messages/pictures and post them publicly. Though Snapchat, Signal, Telegram and Instagram (stories) with disappearing photo/videos features, are considered safer for private chats, it honestly depends on the intent of the people involved. No app is hundred percent safe. If someone wishes to leak anything private, they will find ways to do it. Where the conversation needs to move towards is creating a culture of respecting consent and privacy rather than only looking for tech solutions, which clearly do not work.
3. Are there any other safe sexting tips?
Undoubtedly post the lockdown, there has been a huge rise in how young people interact with their partners and sexting seems to be the only way out. Here are some very basic guidelines that focus on your behaviour as well as practical tips:
- Firstly ensure that, under the pretext of sexting, you are not violating someone’s consent and trust, as much as you would not want your privacy to be violated by them.
- While sharing pictures/videos of your body, try cropping out your face to ensure that you safeguard your identity to some extent, only if you want to.
- Use apps where chats disappear and check if the person you are sexting with has taken a screenshot of pictures/videos which were not intended for them to save. Educate yourself on app features.
- Choose video calls over transferring video files to reduce the chances of them getting saved in someone else’s phone, making it easier to share.
- Most importantly, if someone sexts you once, does not mean that they have given you the permission to sext forever, they can say no the next time and you need to be okay with that.
- This cannot be said enough times, as an adult on the internet, please ALWAYS check the age of the person you are sexually flirting with, while sex chats seem harmless, it gives no adult any right to be engaging with a minor no matter who initiates the conversation.
4. How do you ensure that your sexual advances do not cross into the harassment territory?
You need understand and accept that not everyone will welcome your sexual advances. There is a huge need to learn how to accept rejection more graciously. If you wish to engage with someone online, it is imperative to understand respect is not just limited to people you already know from real life (from school, college, workplace, neighbourhood etc). The same parameters of respect apply for strangers as well. If someone is not comfortable with your advances, instead of taking it personally, listen to what they mean. If they ask you to leave them alone, do not try to negotiate. Or if they want to keep it platonic, respect that choice and do not push your way in to make the conversation sexual.
5. Once you do have your online partner’s consent, how do you ensure you remain within boundaries, and respect theirs?
ASK. Even though it is the simplest thing to do, yet it is often ignored. Always ask your partner if they are comfortable with sharing their chats, pictures, data, identity with you. Specify if you have any intentions of sharing them with your friends. Understand that if your partner has consented to share anything private with you, it is because they wanted to share that only with you, unless specified. Do not circulate it with other people no matter how close they are to you. Social media may seem like a public space but it is like any other physical space which has both private and public sides to it. Not everything shared in private has to be made public just like in our offline lives.
This is in no way an exhaustive guideline. Though I would like to push for further scrutiny on the current idea of ‘sex education’, I also want to question that, in the cyber era, how is it that the available sex education for teenagers ends up being limited to learning about contraceptions, biological reproductive processes that focus only on heterosexuality and abstinence? Something is glaringly incomplete here.
The issue is this mass ignorance around sexuality, bodies, pleasure, consent and autonomy. It is complicated, no doubt. But this is something for adults to chew on – that no matter how we morally wrap up sexuality for young people, they will find newer means for expressing and engaging that makes sense to them. Also, not to forget, consent is still a grey area for comprehension, cutting across all age groups and strata of our society. Not to forget, the silence on queerness and queerphobia among parents that still has a long way to go. Unfortunately what this confusion has always resulted in is – violation, entitlement, unequal relationships and shame. Here is a topic that calls for another blog.
Till then, practice safe sexting!