A generation ago, there was no such thing as sexting. Now it’s often a major part of modern romance, whether it takes the form of raunchy texts, dick pics, nudes, or sexually explicit videos.
But is it a good thing? Sexting has generated plenty of editorial handwringing, with articles warning that it cheapens relationships, erodes privacy, and leads to exploitation and public shaming (almost always of women, whether it’s in the form of “revenge porn,“ mass hacks like 2014’s “The Fappening,” or unauthorized sharing of nude pictures among high school students.) There’s no question that non-consensual sexting is a bad thing. But what about consensual sexting between adults? Can it actually help a relationship?
Who Sexts and Why?
In an international survey conducted by The Kinsey Institute in 2017, 67% of respondents to admitted to sexting, either through text or on apps like Snapchat (Snapchat trended younger, especially with adults 18-21). That’s a lot of sexting–and potentially a lot of data to collect.
In another survey (also from 2017) Dr. Michelle Drouin of Purdue University tried to determine the positive effects of sexting on relationships. That study found that, like a lot aspects of sex and relationships, context is key. As Dr. Drouin recently pointed out to Elite Daily, sexting offers a thrill above and beyond standard pornography because it is created for an intended audience of one. This “customization of sexual communication” offers intimacy, novelty, and connection without the requirement of physical contact or geographic proximity. By this reasoning, sexting should help long-distance relationships thrive, maintaining the sexual connection between partners who are separated for relatively short periods by travel.
What Women Think vs. What Men Think
Drouin suggested that the positive effects of sexting depend on the status of the relationship in question, and differed in significant ways between the sexes. Men were twice as likely to have sexted with someone with whom their relationship was considered casual compared to women. Women were twice as likely as men to have sexted with a committed relationship partner.
About 50% of respondents felt that sexting had a positive impact on the emotional and sexual connection of their relationships. Those who were in committed relationships reported more positive effects than negative (defined for the study as “worry” and “regret”) and were generally more comfortable with sexting than those in casual relationships.
Women experienced more negative feelings overall than men, especially if they were in self-described casual relationships. For men, the level of worry and regret was basically the same whether they were in a committed or casual relationship. Women were much more likely to report worry about sexts if they were not in a committed relationship. An analysis of the study in Psychology Today speculates that women more generally fear they will be labeled as overtly promiscuous just because they sent a sext to a boyfriend or potential lover. As the rise of the “dick pic” suggests, men don’t seem to share this hangup.