I started off quarantine strong, if that’s what you’d like to call it; I’d transmuted physical sexual interaction into a fully cyber engagement—and quite successfully, if I do say so myself. As a participant in our world of modern-day hookup culture, I was no stranger to digital modes of courting. Rather than just acting as the build-up to the booty call, however, messaging, Snapchat, and FaceTime had ascended and taken their places as the Main Events.
At this point, I’d been single for a little under a year and a half. After my previous relationships, I’d promised myself I wouldn’t settle. The phrase “I deserve better” echoed inside my head. I was determined for my next romantic partner to be my equal in terms of intention and emotional intelligence.
That same promise didn’t necessarily extend to my sex life, though. I engaged in one-night stands, situationships that included sex, and recurrent friends-with-benefits hookups, the vast majority of which were devoid of emotional intimacy. Through it all, I prided myself on being an empowered woman—one who was in control of her sexuality, who wasn’t afraid of allowing herself physical pleasure, who didn’t need emotional connection, nonetheless love, to have sex.
Cyber sex and other forms of digital sexual interaction were my way of continuing casual sex under quarantine restrictions; with the help of my phone, I’d brought hookup culture home with me, into my bedroom and beneath my sheets, all while respecting the adjustments we’ve had to make during social distancing.
See, I’ve always flaunted my sexuality; after growing up attending a very conservative Christian school, college allotted me the freedom to reclaim what they’d informed me was inherently wrong with me—my body, my desire, and my desirability. My hoe phase was a radical reaction to a lifetime of externally suppressed sexuality. I discovered the physical pleasure in sex and I reveled in the validation I felt from being desired.
Cyber sex, in particular, heightened that validation. As someone who greatly values words of affirmation, it’s no surprise that texting and Snapchatting became particularly prominent mediums for my interactions, even before social distancing. Messages praising my body, my boldness, my sexiness, and outlining how tantalizing I was became my drug; a photo proving the physical effect I had on them was even more euphoric. Due to the limitations of digital interaction, participants are forced to make their thoughts exponentially clear so they aren’t misinterpreted. Through careful and deliberate wording, one can make the intention and tone of their digital message exceptionally obvious—and for me, this acted as a drug enhancer, increasing the high I was already experiencing. I felt powerful, entrancing, needed…and I loved it.
I was relying on external validation to prove my worth, and the transparency of digital communication exacerbated it. Read receipts and “opened” icons allowed me to closely monitor my partner’s passive participation—or lack thereof—in our interactions. If they left me on read, I found myself feeling dejected and worthless. Instead of learning my lesson and simply withdrawing my energy from somewhere it wasn’t wanted, though, their rejection made me more determined to garner their attention. It became borderline obsessive—I carefully calculated how much time to let elapse before sending them another snap, and each time I snapped them I took a plethora of photos before settling on one to actually send. It got to the point where I was sending up to ten photos a day. Hell, I probably would’ve sent double or triple that if my partners had been more reciprocal. And when they took initiative and replied to one of my thirst trap stories with a heart-eyes emoji or a fire emoji? Validation. Jackpot. I’d quickly text one of my gal pals, boasting to them about how much I had this boy under my thumb, when in reality it was I who’d entangled myself in what was clearly a web of my own creation.
It wasn’t until about a month ago that I snapped (pun intended) out of it—and I wish I could say I did so completely of my own accord. Rather, my primary FWB and I decided it was better if we parted ways, and in retrospect I’ve understood just how unhealthy I had allowed it to become. My investment in cyber sex and the validation that came with it was obviously detrimental; I’d turned a blind eye and denied it for so long, justifying my actions by referring back to my understanding that a woman who owned her sexuality via casual sex was feminist. I was choosing to ignore my personal feelings and needs in an attempt to embody this idea I had of the Modern Feminist Woman; though I understood the concept, I wasn’t affording myself the realization that feminism is unique to each woman, that I could be a woman who desires emotional connection as a part of her sex life and still be a feminist. I realized that right now, I need a partner who cares for me emotionally, because I can’t say with certainty that most of my past partners, cyber or physical, cared about me as anything beyond an object of sexual pleasure. I’d denied a critical part of me—my desire to be seen and valued as a human being. It took pandemic-induced cyber sex and quarantine celibacy for me to want to choose celibacy, to choose to wait for partners who can give me the emotional intimacy that I require.
In retrospect, I now see the magnitude of my dependence on external validation. I was basing my self-worth on what others thought of me, which made the self part of my self-worth a moot point. What I thought of myself didn’t matter because, quite frankly, I didn’t care—all I cared about was others’ opinions of me. For so long, I’d prided myself on my self-respect—remember how I’d told myself “I deserve better”? I hadn’t realized that I, first and foremost, was the one who needed to treat myself better. I needed to learn to be okay completely alone and to not rely on external validation from boys who, quite frankly, were often not worth any of my time or energy. I was objectifying myself for them and claiming it was a feminist act, which didn’t and doesn’t coincide with what I need in order to grow. So for now, I’m turning inward and learning to give to myself what I used to get from others. Snapchat, I’m officially signing off.
By Kalena Chiu
Illustration by Carly Jeans Andrews for Vice