By Shweta Sangtani Sep. 28, 2022
When real life experiences fuelled my trust issues with partners, sexting became my cheat code to remain present, despite all my issues with power play of the actual act.
I remember watching a scene from No Strings Attached where Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher’s characters have sex for the first time. What struck for me in the moment, apart from the fact that Portman’s character came on cue – which as most women will tell you is not how it goes – is how her character was present enough in the moment to orgasm. Even though this is generally how intimate scenes are portrayed in cinema, every time I watch a sex scene, I can’t help but envy just how casual and maybe even easy it is for the women. I can’t remember the last time I was ‘fully present’ in the entire time I was intimate with someone for the first time. Part of it might be down to ageing, but part of it is also down to the sexual abuse that left me dissociated and disconnected from myself.
While I enjoyed the thought of having sex, any physical touch would leave me instantly disconnected as if my brain left the building while my body was still present.
For those who may be unaware, dissociation involves experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity. It usually develops as a reaction to trauma. What I had on my hands, thereafter, was a thoroughly reduced sex drive, and by extension a modest sex life. While I enjoyed the thought of having sex, any physical touch would leave me instantly disconnected as if my brain left the building while my body was still present. This had nothing to do with the men I was with. Disassociation makes even touch and intimacy feel like acts that happen to you but are probably felt by someone else. The young me, of course assumed that there was something wrong with me, maybe an illness or worse a physical condition.
This was till I reconnected with an old acquaintance, and we hit it off instantly over texts. Our casual flirtation progressed steadily and while texting him one night, things began to get a bit intense. As the conversation continued, I experienced, what I can say to be, one of my most gratifying sexual experiences. What had changed? What did we do here that I wasn’t able to summon in the far more conventional act of physical intimacy? Safety, and control.
Sexting for me became a cheat code where I had the ability to remain present, despite all my issues with power play of the actual act.
While sexual assault is one end of the spectrum of sexual offences, it isn’t the only one. There are other subtle ones that are often swept under the rug. Such as pressurising someone to have sex; the wilful ignorance of the apparent hesitation; the insistence on not using protection; the refusal to understand that consent can be withdrawn even in the middle of the sexual act and so many more. Unfortunately for me, I’ve met a host of men who have committed these acts without so much as realising the gravity and the repercussions of it. Not all abuse is of course physical.
Where does sexting come in all this? Unknowingly, for me, sexting became a way of reclaiming that control I had lost in the many lopsided intimate relationships I had had. Status Quos where initiation itself seemed to prompt the abandonment of a certain amount of ‘say’ in the act. As a woman, you either never question that hierarchy or simply learn to put up with it. It was, as I realised over time, the very thing preventing me from enjoying that to which I wanted to submit myself fully. I couldn’t do away with the dissociation, so I did away with what my mind perceived as a ‘threat’. Suddenly I could feel intimacy the way I wanted to, without being overexposed or possibly overconsumed by the idea that I didn’t deserve the safety and freedom that distance and technology could evidently provide.
None of this is to say that it’s a choice between one or the other when it comes to expressing intimacy, however, having different facets of consent violated by different men -some outright and others wilfully ignorant – breeds severe trust issues.
None of this is to say that it’s a choice between one or the other when it comes to expressing intimacy, however, having different facets of consent violated by different men -some outright and others wilfully ignorant – breeds severe trust issues. Sexting for me became a cheat code where I had the ability to remain present, despite all my issues with power play of the actual act. I’m still working through all the mental and emotional damage caused not only by the years of sexual abuse but also by virtue of simply being a woman, which often comes with a side of frequent sexual harassment. Though the healing is in itself a slow process, my personal little cheat code has made sure that this essential of human experiences is not denied to me, one text at a time.
"Shweta Sangtani is a litigating lawyer at the Bombay High Court and a Co-founder of Sangya Project (@sangyaproject), an online pleasure store and initiative to reconstruct common perceptions of sex and sexuality."