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Relationships: Experts share the pros and cons of sexting

A recently-conducted survey in the US suggests that sexting, or sending sexual text messages can boost relationships. This, despite the fact that there can be a flip side to it. We get experts to explain if your messaging rendezvous is a healthy adventure or not

  The 2013 Joaquin Phoenix-starrer Her, related an engaging story of a man getting into an emotional and physical relationship with an operating system. While people, thankfully, haven’t reached that stage today, technology continues to play a big part in several people’s sexual lives. A dominating element of this is sexting. For the uninitiated, sexting means sharing sexually explicit messages, mostly over
mobile phones.

When does it work?
The recent raid at a city hotel where about 40 couples were arrested from the rooms is but a reminder about the lack of personal space couples face in the city. “Sexting proves fruitful as a romantic connect in a long distance relationship, or for couples living in the same city but are busy with their careers. Because technology is involved, it’s mostly the young who indulge in it, but one cannot generalise. The reason why it has gotten popular is because people have access to Internet through out the day and messaging services such as WhatsApp let you send photographs too,” says relationship counsellor Ameeta Sanghavi Shah. Dr Shyam Mithiya, consultant psychiatrist and sexologist, says that sexting becomes a mode to communicate emotions, which couples are otherwise not able to communicate. But with younger people, it gets troublesome. Kanan Raval, who is an industrial psychologist with a clinic in Borivali, says it causes more harm than good. “It does have some positive impact, initially, but there is a strong chance of it turning into an obsession. The positive impact, too, is temporary,” says Raval.

When things can go wrong
Shah says that sexting can be addictive. It can envelope you and draw you into a compulsive habit, just like alcohol or gambling, as it starts with having some fun. The biggest danger in sexting is that one leaves behind a history, and once you fall out of favour of the other person, there are chances of it being misused. “Young people are often unaware of the complications that such activity could lead to and sext recklessly. I have a young male patient who is addicted to this. Sometimes the obsession even leads to a condition called the Impulse Control Disorder where the person cannot control himself from sending such messages. But this is not common. What is common, however, is moral and legal complications from such behaviour by the young,” says Mithiya.

Shah says that the reason why sexting gets addictive for a lot of people is because several people face and fear loneliness, lack of attention, question their self worth and rejection in their childhood. And through sexting, you get special attention and adoration, which is cathartic. “Though this can lead to one person commanding the other to do things. Also, men might initiate a sexual conversation but it goes both ways, and both parties are responsible for it going overboard,” warns Shah. She has had to deal with patients who have neglected and ruined their careers due to occupation with sexting.

Crossing marital boundaries
Sexting is also one of reasons why several people get into extra marital affairs. And this can even start with a simple comment on someone’s photograph on Facebook. “It seems innocuous, but if someone leaves a compliment on your photograph five to six times a day, sometimes, you start getting habituated to it. People might think that it is meaningless flirting and since they aren’t involved physically, it is okay to be married and do it. Once you give the other person the authority in a sexual way, this can then lead to sexting. It feels nice, especially, if your partner is not expressive, and the secrecy gives you a thrill. But this can escalate and abrupt stopping might, in fact, work against you as the other person might take it badly and then, threaten with evidence,” tells Shah.

A case study that Raval shares is of a successful over 60-years old businessman. “He discovered the Internet only a few years ago and was excited about it. But eventually his social media addiction became troubling. He has developed extra-marital relationships and sex-talks with very young women. This is a kind of addiction that becomes difficult to get rid of,” says Raval. Shah says that overt use of sexting can take the fun away even in one’s actual sexual life, sometimes.

Setting the limits
The key to have a healthy chatting sexual relationship is drawing the boundary and keeping your phone content safe. “Like any relationship, one should get into this after thinking through. Be it a long term or short term relationship, one should always keep in mind that the content is liable to misuse and bullying,” says Shah.

About the survey: 8 out of 10

I did it. It was fun to begin with but it’s boring after a while. There is little to say once you have said it. What I want to convey is that sexting happens in a vacuum. There is no before and after.
— Male journalist, 28 years

It causes more worry than anything else. It is like keeping documentary proof of something that is extremely private. Initially, it is kind of easy and fun but it is too risky and can never compensate for actual proximity.
- Woman academic, 30 years

How did sexting begin?
The first published use of the term sexting was in a 2005 article in the Australian Sunday Telegraph Magazine. As a result of sexting being a relatively recent practice, ethics are still being established by both, those who engage in it and those who create legislation based on this concept. Whether sexting is seen as a positive or negative experience typically rests on the basis of whether or not consent was given to share the images.

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