Abhishek*: ‘What would you like to do if we were alone in a room?’
Girl in the Chat Room: ‘I would like to listen to music and make out with you…’

This is a portion of a sext between Abhishek* (27) (name changed) and his online friend who are locked down separately due to Corona virus spread.

Even as most of us are cooped inside our houses, touch-starved and craving for a cuddle, a single sexually explicit text message, a suggestive image or even a thirst emoji sent to our phones can fire up an ocean of emotions.

Sexting involves receiving or sending sexually overt images including nude pictures or videos via electronic devices.

While we literally live and breathe in a virtual world, sexting may have become a necessity to keep our spirits up and battle sexual frustration, but cyber experts and sexologists warn of an impending danger.

‘The level of horniness of people are visible on dating sites and its unimaginable’, said Abhishek, who does Branding for a hospital in Chennai.

Going by numbers put out by PornHub, the largest site on adult content, during the 21-day lockdown last year, India had reported 95 per cent spike in traffic to adult sites.

But when it comes to sexting, Abhishek affirms that it was not worrisome.

‘I know women get flirted at a lot and I don’t make women feel uncomfortable. When I matched with a girl on a dating App, the girl had asked me what my fantasises were, I simply said I want to survive a zombie apocalypse’, he chuckles.

‘The girl was impressed that I was not desperate and we did hit it off from there. It is about making each other comfortable understanding the fact that both of them are sexually attracted.’

The Bait
Prior to Covid-19 and its paralysing impacts on daily life, experts observed that open Chat Rooms were covert. The users preferred to use aliases or sobriquets and fake images were used as display pictures.

Some of the prominent applications and sites used for sexting are Snapchat, Chatzy, Chatroom.org, KIK, Line and Tinder.

The number of active profiles here at any given time were not alarming, probably because people were free to meet in real time.

Currently, in these open Chat Rooms users display their real identity, complete with their pictures ready for sexting sessions.

Vinoth E, UGC- SRF Research Scholar, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University who is researching on Sexting and its Victimisation said, ‘There are two types of major sexting: paid and unpaid. Since the pandemic, the traffic on Chat Rooms have attracted email phishing activity.

The modus operandi is to tease a user with the preview of a live strip show and promise them a complete show for a payment of Rs 500 and above. Then using the link of a mobile banking App, get the money and block the customer without giving any kind of services.

In many cases, hacking of bank accounts have taken place.

Vinoth is one such victim.

‘After I noticed such pop-up links offering ‘private chat shows’ I decided to take the bait with the hope of getting details such as bank account, QR code, Gpay or PhonePe numbers so as to trace and report them.
I went on a site offering a ‘paid chat show’. I was asked to pay Rs 20 and they showed a 15 second video which looked as if it was happening live. I later realised that it was not a live one,’ he narrated.

After paying the feeble amount, Vinoth began chatting with the person on Google Hangouts for a full session chat show. He gave him an Airtel mobile banking link to make a payment, which he did.

‘During the chat I was asked how much money was available in a particular bank account,’ Vinoth says.

What happened next left him flummoxed, he received a One Time Password and in a matter of seconds, Rs 25,000 was wiped out of his account.

‘I did not except them to hack into my account, usually the mode of offence is to block the user after they make a payment’, he said.

Vinoth did approach the DGP’s office in the city only because he was already familiar with the department through his research work. However, a police officer who spoke to Provoke said not many who are similarly cheated come forward to register a complaint.

‘Owing to the stigma associated with visiting sexting sites, victims hesitate to report such crimes, giving more leverage to the scamsters. The few cases which are being registered reach us through senior officials as the victims insist on handling it confidentially and sensitively. Even then no one openly admits they were in a Chat Room’, the officer said.

Sunshine over rainbow
Despite this set back, sexting has helped the LGBTQ community in overcoming social stigma. The sites have been inclusive. In these virtual rooms and Apps members of LGBTQ community are not singled out, they meet their own kind here and express themselves without judgement.

Every person can choose to display their sexual orientation with the help of colours tags.

A straight male can choose blue, a straight female can pick pink, violet denotes bi-sexual, lesbian goes by purple and gays tag themselves as yellow.

‘Being in a virtual forum it is easy to communicate your sexual interests and even hide your identity, Vinoth says.

Chairman, Indian Association for Sexologists, Dr T Kamaraj says, ‘There is intense exposure to pornographic content on media and internet. People do not know how to react. We need to educate young people. Urges will be there but do not act irresponsibly. The pandemic has had effects on sex life. Distance has caused lack of intimacy. Sexting between partners is fine, we are telling couples to use sexual toy.

The best way out is to masturbate. It can prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV. Watching pornography as a private affair is fine. Sexting is fine as long as it is between partners.’

The way she likes it
According to survey which appeared in science journal PLOS ONE, over half of all women, an estimate of 57.7 per cent reported having received or sent sexting messages, consistent across all geographic areas.

It also found that about 62 per cent of Indian women engage in sexting,

Mitra (22), (name changed) began sexting her boyfriend at the age of 17. ‘Being a callow, I did it for the good of the relationship and obviously for pleasure.’

Later when she broke up and got on dating platforms. She began sexting again and it happened in, ‘the heat of the moment. Organic and unplanned. But never without mind.’

‘I play it very safe. The digital footprint does worry me but there is a tacit understanding that the content being shared remains personal that will not be leaked or misused,’ says Mitra.

She says sexting hides insecurities. It is helpful if you are self-conscious and shy of meeting people in real life.

‘Whatever I type is what unfolds in your mind. The picture I paint is what you are going to visualise. I feel I have the control and I need not worry about judgement. When you meet someone in person, you fear rejection’, she says.

So, what is her game? ‘I start off with a round of truth or dare. There is also the 21-question game’, some of the questions include sharing your weirdest fantasy or ones like, ‘What are you wearing’.

A question I get asked a lot is, ‘Would you climb on the back seat of the car with me’, this is preceded by ‘Would you like to go on a long car ride with me’.

The questions slowly build up a fantasy scenario and eventually boils down to one thing: What do you want to do if we are alone in a room.

(Names changed to protect identity)