When Rhea caught her husband Harish sexting a colleague, her whole world came tumbling down. “I confronted my husband and he told me it was an innocent pastime, and that it was just virtual and not a real affair,” says Rhea. Though Harish has promised Rhea that he won’t repeat it again, she feels that the trust they shared has been lost in the episode.
According to Anand Kumar, the guilty one feels while sexting outside a relationship is perhaps lesser than having an intimate relationship in real life. Kumar, who has indulged in sexting women other than his wife, also says that trying to keep a charade of normalcy after a point gets tiring. Sexting is the act of sending explicit photographs or messages through digital devices. In 2011, an explicit image showing “the bulging crotch of a man in his underwear” was tweeted from US politician Anthony Weiner’s account. Though initially Weiner claimed that his account had been hacked, he later admitted sexting several other women.
Weiner and his wife Abedin went through a “difficult” phase, at the end of which she forgave him for his “horrible mistakes.” The infamous episode was termed Weinergate and it put a spotlight on how sexting affected relationships. One of the common questions seems to be whether sexting a person other than your partner equals cheating or not. With the access to internet literally on our fingertips today, what divides the real from the digital continues to fade. The same technology which brings people together also has the potential to foster an environment where getting intimate virtually might seem more appealing, exciting and less risky.
While sexting outside a relationship can undoubtedly create severe trust and understanding issues between the partners, many believe that sexting is merely the channelizing of one’s fantasies, and since it does not involve physical contact, it cannot be considered cheating. When in a relationship with his former girlfriend, Ayush Samar used to sext another woman. His then girlfriend never got to know about his virtual relationship, and Samar has no qualms about what he did- mostly because, for him at that time, sexting did not amount to cheating. “It was like an opportunity which I did not want to miss out on. And since the girl I was sexting showed interest in me, I never considered it wrong,” he says adding that he now looks at it differently.
But at what point does one cross the limits and how does one come to the conclusion that their partners have cheated on them? “Sexting is impersonal. If a person is sexting someone other than their own partner- without the partner’s knowledge- it amounts to infidelity. If the third person has no interest in the sexts and does not like it, it amounts to harassment,” says Dr Narayana Reddy, a consultant of Sexual Medicine. That a husband chooses to share intimate conversations with another person might affect the wife even more than the actual content of the conversation. In a 2013 survey done by Huffington Post, 60% of respondents said that if their partners formed an emotional connect with someone else, it would be considered cheating, but 18% felt that such a case would not be considered cheating.
Interestingly, the number of nos shot to 29% when a separate group of respondents were asked if they would hold themselves guilty of cheating, if they formed an emotional connect with another person. 50% of them said yes. Shruthi is of the opinion that sexting outside a relationship is not being disloyal. “If your relationship gets monotonous, some may engage in intimate conversations with others. It could create trouble in a relationship, but it is not cheating,” she says.
A report on Net Addiction goes on describe how an important part of such interactions include emotional detachment, which means that the parties engaging in sexting are living their fantasies and that it has got hardly anything to do with reality. “Meaning, when Anthony Weiner sent images of his private parts to the distant Leathers as “Carlos Danger,” this might have meant little about his feelings for his very present wife,” says the report. Reddy disagrees. “Why should I choose anyone over my partner for such intimate discussions? If you are unable to convey your emotions to your partner, there must be something wrong in your relationship,” he says.
Sexting too often can turn into an addiction, and this in turn can affect the quality of our lives. “The quality of the work produced by the person might take a hit. And on the relationship front, since the person is always engaged in sexting, they may not give proper time to their partners,” he says. Visiting counsellors and undergoing therapy could help in such cases, according to Reddy.