Is sexting good or bad for you? Psychologists study the consequences of sending sexts

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Past research has found that more than eight out of 10 people are sexting. Now psychologists are investigating the positive and negative consequences of using your phone to send sexually suggestive or nude images of yourself.

The study, published in the scientific journal Computers in Human Behavior, found that sexts sent in casual relationships tend to have more negative outcomes — among other findings.

“In general, I am interested in the ways in which technology is affecting individuals and relationships,” explained the study’s corresponding author, Michelle Drouin of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

“Much of my research has been devoted to the ways in which technology is affecting romantic relationships, and sexting emerged quickly as a worthy topic of study. With regard to this particular paper, although we now have an ever-growing base of scientific studies on sexting, we are still missing information about the benefits and detriments of sexting within different types of romantic relationships.”

Drouin and her colleagues found that 58% of college students admitted to sending a sext and 62% admitted to receiving one. Most began sexting as minors. Men were more likely to report that their last sexting partner was a casual partner, while women were more likely to report their last sexting partner was a committed partner.

About half of the participants who had sexted reported that it resulted in positive sexual or emotional consequences, but a large number of participants also reported negative consequences.

“People may be motivated to send sexually-explicit picture or video messages to their romantic partner because they think it is fun or flirtatious or they want to please their partners. In fact, when we ask them, these are young adults’ most commonly cited motivations for sexting,” Drouin explained to PsyPost.

“However, many people experience regret or worry about the pictures they have sent to recent partners, and some even report discomfort and trauma at the time they sent the pictures. Most importantly, women and those who send these sexual images to casual sex partners report fewer relationship benefits (emotional or sexual) and more relationship detriments associated with the sexting than those who send them to committed partners.”

The findings are based on 352 undergraduate students who completed an online survey. The younger research sample makes it difficult to generalize to older populations.

“Most of the sexting research examines sexting practices of teens and young adults, who are, for the most part, in relationships that are not life-long commitments,” Drouin remarked. “We still do not know whether couples perceive these sexually-explicit messages to be beneficial to married or other long-term committed relationships.”

“Additionally, we are just starting to ask questions about whether navigating sexual (and social) relationships online is having an effect on the way we develop and function in later stages of our lives. I think this is the next critical step in technology-mediated communication research.”

“Sexual communication is just one of the many facets of life that has been affected by technology,” Drouin added. “Unfortunately, the technology changes more quickly than we can study its effects, which means that the field is always vast, and the questions are always many.”

The study, “Is sexting good for your relationship? It depends…“, was also co-authored by Manda Coupe and Jeff Temple. It was published online June 14, 2017.

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