One of the big ongoing misconceptions we have is that sex might be something that happens in our bodies – when, of course, sex is overwhelmingly an intellectual business rooted in the mind. Orgasm is a psychological phenomenon.
Perhaps nothing proves this so well as the business of sexting, a fascinating and deeply creative activity in which two people, who may be on opposite continents from one another, can nevertheless, through the sheer medium of words, bring each other off without so much as touching each other’s skin.
At its best, sexting calls upon the very same arts of narrative fiction that have been central to our civilisation since the days of Homer. Like a great poet, the sexter must create profound effects in another’s mind without any means beside the manipulation of the 26 characters of the alphabet. They must pull off the creative feat of helping another person to come over a sequence of letters, arguably a higher or at least more visceral burden of proof of literary talent than winning a mere National Book Award or Pulitzer Prize.
The successful texter cannot just rest on describing in words the physiological actions they would otherwise have liked to perform with their limbs. They need to have recourse to erotic ideas. Intellectually, eroticism emerges first and foremost from the pleasure – in which relief plays a big part – at having our secret sexual selves, witnessed, endorsed and encouraged by a kindly other.
The good sexter knows how to call forth the otherwise shamed, shy parts of their partner and to lead them to lay aside the punishing propriety that society normally demands. So-called dirty words have an important role to play in successful texting, for their taboo nature functions as evidence of loyalty and trust. We can say polite things to more or less anyone; but it’s only around someone rather special that we can at last spill out the plethora of extreme things that we’ve been told since childhood never to utter. They may sound like the opposite of tenderness, but the dirtiest words are in fact touching symbols of loyalty and emotional intimacy. They are evidence that we’ve at last found someone to whom we can reveal our vulnerable true wayward selves.
In the heat of sexting, we no longer have to care about being a good boy or a nice girl. While the city sleeps, swear words, insults, descriptions of enormous or highly willing organs travel down oblivious fibre optic cables, laid down by sensible engineers and financed by stolid investment firms. Orbiting satellites eavesdrop on the details of cunilingus. What our phone companies will later in the month discretely refer to as merely ‘data’ bears the imprint of our spiritual journey, from loneliness to intimacy.
It is no wiser to dismiss texting because many people have done it without artistry than to dismiss the art of literature because there have been so many substandard books. Sexting awaits rediscovery as a supreme medium of communication and literary talent.