Sexters exhibit more body shame but also feel more comfortable with being nude, study finds

A new study in The Journal of Sex Research suggests that sexting can be both objectifying and liberating.

“I am interested in studying the ways digital technology changes gender identity and sexual behaviours. Much of the sexting research I have read focuses on why people sext or the negative consequences sexting brings but not so much on its nature,” said Mario Liong, is an associate professor at Ritsumeikan University in Japan

“When I further studied the literature, I noticed the contradictory ideas about sexting — that sexting is reproducing objectification of women’s and girls’ bodies, but also that it acts as a platform for individuals to experiment with their bodies and sexualities and to look at their bodies in a way different from the mainstream media representation. So I became interested in conducting an empirical study to examine which claim is more accurate and also to understand more about the nature of sexting.”

For their study, the researchers surveyed 361 college students in Hong Kong regarding their sexting behaviors, body surveillance, body shame, body control beliefs, and comfort with nudity.

Students who sexted more frequently were more likely to agree with statements such as “During the day, I think about how I look many times” and “I feel ashamed of myself when I haven’t made the effort to look my best.” But they also tended to be more comfortable about baring their body in a variety of situations.

“Sexting is both objectifying and sexually liberating. Compared to people who have not sexted, sexters do exhibit a higher level of body shame and they monitor their body figure more,” Liong told PsyPost.

“But at the same time, sexters feel more comfortable with being nude, which is associated with sexual openness and satisfaction according to past studies. Therefore, we should not just focus on the negative consequence of sexting but should acknowledge that sexting can be empowering too.”

The study used a cross-sectional design, meaning that the researchers cannot parse out cause and effect.

“As a correlational study, one cannot conclude for sure that sexting does bring about sexual empowerment or leads to objectified body consciousness,” Liong explained. “Moreover, the finding does not resolve the problems that nude pictures in sexting may reach unintended audience and the legal issue of creating pornographic images, especially among the underaged.

“For further study, I think we should continue to think about how to reduce the objectifying effect of sexting,” Liong added. “I hope that this study can stimulate more thoughts and discussions about the impacts of digital technology on human sexuality and how we can design our future technology to bring about empowerment of gender and sexuality.”

The study, “Objectifying or Liberating? Investigation of the Effects of Sexting on Body Image“, was authored by Mario Liong and Grand H.-L. Cheng.