Study finds sexting is not associated with risky sexual behaviors in older adults

Research on teenagers and college students has found that sexting is associated with participation in risky sexual behaviors. However, a new study suggests sending sexually explicit images or messages electronically is not linked to risky behaviors among older adults.

The new study found that sexting was not related to risky sex, loneliness or depressive symptoms. The findings appear in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy.

“My interest in this topic was piqued when news reports and media began labeling sexting as a risky sex behavior and ‘dangerous,'” explained study author Joseph Currin of Texas Tech University.

“I often thought – what makes it risky for adults? If two consenting adults want to sext each other – why is that a problem? In my research, ‘risky’ sex often meant condomless sex and the risks associated with that (e.g., HIV/STI’s, unintended pregnancies, etc.). So I approached this from a standpoint of examining this from both a mental health and sexual health perspective to determine if there was a risk.”

Currin and his colleagues surveyed 377 single adults (average age 29.8 years) and 374 adults in committed relationships (average age 33.7 years) regarding their sexual behaviors and mental health.

“Condom usage was not associated with sexting, meaning that whether or not someone uses a condom during anal or vaginal sex is not related to whether or not that person sexts. This was true for individuals who identified as single or in relationships,” Currin told PsyPost.

“Furthermore, sexting did not put participants in the current sample at a greater risk for condomless sex, loneliness, or depression.”

Among those in a committed relationship, sexting was associated with higher rates of alcohol consumption and feeling more connected to others.

The findings are good news for the eight out of 10 adults who admit to sexting.

“These results are somewhat different from studies that have looked at sexting in adolescents and university-based populations. This sample was taken from a non-university based older adult population. So while there may be risk for younger adults and adolescents who sext, the same did not hold true for older adults,” Currin explained.

Sexting has received growing attention, but there is still much to learn about it.

“There are still many questions to address with sexting behaviors, including motivations for why individuals sext, how it impacts their relationships, are there certain types of individuals predisposed to sexting, and how do sexting behaviors differ among sexual and gender minority individuals,” Currin told PsyPost.

“Sexting is a much more nuanced, complex behavior than most people realize. There are some benefits to engaging in the behavior for adults, but there are also some potential negative conflicts. Like any sexual behavior, consent is the most important aspect. When you want to sext someone, you need to have their consent to do so.”

The study, “Sexting Leads to ‘Risky’ Sex? An Analysis of Sexting Behaviors in a Nonuniversity-Based, Older Adult Population“, was authored by Joseph Currin, Randolph Hubach, Carissa Sanders, and Tonya Hammer.