The first time I sexted someone, I was thirteen. The walls of my bedroom were so bright and clinically white that they made me lose my sense of space, but I had not started to develop a personality yet, so it did not occur to me to put anything up to make it better. I finally had access to a smartphone, even though it only worked on Wi-Fi. I filmed incredibly skilless musical.ly’s and took black-and-white selfies that only accentuated the red hues and sent Snapchat streaks without understanding why and downloaded a chatting app because I was lonely. It was not an established platform, like Kik—I just searched “chat” in Google Play Store and installed the first app I saw. It did not occur to me that it would be a platform used mostly for sexting, but I instinctively put my age as sixteen in my profile. The first person that I talked to asked for pictures, so I sent them. The next person asked for pictures, so I sent them. One asked for a picture of my butt, so I sent one, and he said, No, I mean like this, and sent an example including his anus in full view. Another one said, When could we lie side by side? I can’t imagine how wonderful it would feel. I agreed over text but did not feel any particular desire to meet this person. Eventually my mom found some of the pics backed up to Google photos. By then, I had already deleted the app because it wasn’t very interesting.
The last time I sexted someone was today, if you count “u want my hands in my pants???” at the end of a conversation about how “Road Head” by Japanese Breakfast was playing at Coffee Club. The recipient of this message and I are in love, so every word between us is inherently sexy in the most purely beautiful sense of the word.
My lowest moment in sexting, if you ignore the fact that the history of my sexts already originated from tremendously low moments, was near the end of freshman year. I had just ended things, for the first time, with a boy that I had my first real-life sexual experiences with. This was far from the last time I would end things with him, and I already knew it. I didn’t like myself very much. I went to the first sexting website I could find—I didn’t even make the effort to download an app—and, after declining all the video call requests, found somebody who was okay with just sending videos back and forth. He wanted to see me take off leggings. He called me baby, unlike the boy on my mind. He sent videos of him jerking off with little to no effort to hide his face, and I marveled at the brazenness of that more than any of the contents of the video. At the end, he begged to stay in touch and gave me his number in case I decided to add him on WhatsApp. I closed the incognito tab and called a friend to confess my sins. I feel yucky, I said. I licked a fucking banana. We’ve all been there, my friend said, but I wasn’t so sure that he could relate to using a banana as a sensuous prop. I ate the banana since it was peeled already.
That was my first time sexting in a very long time. In sophomore year of high school, I was such a prolific sexter that if you printed out all the Instagram DMs I exchanged with two boys who were friends (I know, sorry, they initiated separately, and I never talked to both of them at the same time) it would have been longer than War and Peace. At night, I left my door open, even if I was getting naked to take pictures with the phone flashlight on. I preferred to be able to hear the footsteps and see the shadows moving in the kitchen-lit hallway than to risk an ambush. One of those nights, a few months after I had turned sixteen, the boy I had been sexting all day for weeks very nonchalantly said, I’m sure we’ll have sex someday anyway. And he wasn’t wrong, anybody who saw our texts would have thought so too. If we could only maneuver the logistics of making it happen, we would have happily grabbed at the skin we found between us.
But something about seeing the words written out made me feel the presence of my entire body all at once. I could feel the shape of the space I took up, my skin, my tangibility, and the fact that I could be seen, even naked. To have sex, I would have to be seen naked. The boy had seen pictures of various naked parts of my body plenty of times, but if we were to get naked in real life, in the undeniable presence of each other, then we would have to breathe on each other, feel the other move, and be seen, taken in, two eyes focused on only me. To imagine being seen so vulnerable and wholly made me recoil, hoping to shrink into negative space. I watched the unmoving, blurred shadows in the blue-dark hallway as I pressed my body into the smallest volume possible.
People don’t change in single instances, except for when they do, and this was one of those times. I became extremely averse to sexual material. Ligma jokes were okay, but poems about the joy of intimacy weren’t. I didn’t care if other people were having fun or connecting to each other in sex; thinking about sex as a tangible act sent me back into that recoiled state, feeling the night around me again. Meanwhile, the world was the way it is: gloriously sexful, for better or for worse. I didn’t crave something that the world said I was supposed to, but it was okay. I didn’t want any of the boys around me, anyway, and all the girls I would have wanted were my friends already.
I still wanted to have sex eventually. I just assumed that, when I was finally naked in front of somebody, it would be a result of a long building of trust. Then one night, ending another long stint of loneliness in my life, a second date with a boy from a dating app ended up happening in my room. Since he was there, I gave him wine, and since he was there, I leaned on his shoulder, and my intentions went about as far as kissing, but then I didn’t want to stop. And that was that. Another flip. I didn’t take off my underwear, but my boobs made their debut. As soon as we eased down, I grabbed the first T-shirt I could find and put it on and said I felt shy.
I stayed shy for longer than I had to because it got me off. The boys I met from dating apps pulled at my shyness, and I willingly gave in, revealing a loud hunger. I liked seeing myself as something to be peeled and hearing my voice teetering in pitch, the same way I liked to take one last glance at the nudes I already sent, just to impress myself, before deleting them from my phone. Sexting had always been about being seen by myself. I started it because I wanted to talk to people, but I wasn’t as interested in listening to them. I didn’t mind if the images I sent weren’t reciprocated; I rarely wanted to see a dick more than I wanted to know that it was responding to me.
But this all, letting myself witness versions of myself, is more of an invention than a curation. With identifying details like moles and jewelry cropped out, my nudes have little to do with the reality of my specific body. The dirty talk in between pre-calculus homework had even less to do with the way I went about my life. I can’t project an idealized version of my body or life into my sexuality if they are completely detached from one another. Yet what’s erotic is the possibility. I could be a girl that you’re itching to touch. A girl taking the risks to sneak you a mid-day nude. Girl down to give you a blowjob any time, even at 4 a.m. when she briefly woke up. Girl breaking past her shyness just enough to slobber—imagine what more she could be once the shyness is fully cracked. I could invent a person who only existed in the vacuum of sex, and to play any iteration of that character, there was no vulnerability required. I had figured out how to take sexting to real life.
And in bed, the rest of our lives were a glimmer beyond the vacuum, visible but far. The boys and I sometimes spoke quietly of our dreams. It felt good to be held so close to another person’s chest. To bypass all formalities and reach straight for what wasn’t always visible. To access their bodies and, by virtue of that, some parts of their minds. But this, too, was another possibility to entertain. I could be a girl who cared for them, even a girl that they could devote something to. But nobody was fooled.
Then came love. Even before I knew what to call it, love broke down the vacuum. It’s all over my entire life, every part of it. So when I had sex, it was the kind that I feared in high school. We got naked in real life, in the undeniable presence of each other, breathing on each other, feeling the other moving, being seen, taken in, two eyes focused on only the other. And I didn’t want to invent anymore. I just wanted to be there. So I was seen, so vulnerably and wholly, and I ballooned, filling the space of my body. I forgot English. I forgot my name. I said, look at me, I am here, the same person I was a minute ago, a morning ago, a kiss ago. And I meant it, I really wanted to be looked at.