Why some college students are more likely to engage in sexting

Research published in The Journal of Sex Research has found that individuals who feel comfortable in their romantic relationship are more likely to send sexually suggestive photos or videos to their partner via mobile devices.

The study of 459 unmarried, heterosexual undergraduate students found that low levels of attachment avoidance and high levels of fear of negative evaluation were associated with sexting behaviors. In other words, sexting was more common among students who felt more secure in their relationship and also more common among students who were concerned with how their relationship
partner evaluated them.

PsyPost interviewed Rob Weisskirch (California State University, Monterey Bay) about his research. Read his responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Weisskirch: I’ve been interested in understanding why and under what circumstances individuals engage in sexting. Given the media attention to celebrities and other well-known figures who have engaged in sexting, I wanted to know why people sext. For this study, the past research has supported some mixed results of how attachment may affect one’s engagement in sexting. Previously, my colleague and I found that anxious attachment was related to sexting. So, this time we specifically targeted non-married, heterosexual adults to see if various types of anxiety related to sexting behaviors.

What should the average person take away from your study?

Sexting typically occurs when there is some degree of commitment in a relationship. Although there may be occasions of individuals who sext to relative strangers, it is more likely to occur when there is some commitment. In addition, we now found that individuals who have a degree of comfort in relationships (e.g., good communication, comfort with intimacy) are more likely to sext and, in particular, to please the romantic partner. So, it seems that sexting may occur when individuals are comfortable in relationships and when they think their partner would enjoy sexting.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

Sexting early in relationships (or before a real relationship has formed) may be a sign of relational anxiety or someone who is not interested in a long term relationship. If someone is looking for a short-term romantic encounter and a sext comes from someone one does not know well but is attracted to, then it may be a signal of things to come.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Sexting in a relationship may not be bad. Sexting may now just be a form of digital foreplay.

The study, “Relational Anxiety and Sexting,” was co-authored by Michelle Drouin (Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne) and Rakel Delevi (California State University).