Sexting often gets a bad rap. Frequently portrayed in media as a kind of scourge among America's youth, sexting can also play a role in adult intimacy that's often overlooked.
A presentation delivered Saturday at the American Psychological Association's 123rd Annual Convention examines sexting as a potential positive in adult relationships. "Most of the research looks at sexting as dangerous," Emily Stasko of Drexel University told Discovery News. "But if it were only bad, it wouldn't be as popular as it is."
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Stasko and her co-author, Pamela Geller, associate professor at Drexel University, surveyed 870 adults ranging in age from 18 to 82 years old to assess sexting behaviors and their influence on relationships. Among those surveyed, nearly 88 percent reported ever having sexted in their lifetimes. Eight-two percent acknowledged they had sexted within the past year.
Nearly three-quarters of respondents sexted within the context of a committed relationship, according to the survey results, and 43 percent engaged in sexting within a casual relationship. Although high-profile sexting stories, most notably the Anthony Weiner scandals in 2011 and again in 2013, tend to link the behavior with infidelity, only 12 percent of survey participants sexted in a cheating relationship.
Respondents who sexted generally reported higher levels of sexual and relationship satisfaction, though the association isn't necessarily cause-and-effect. "We just know that there are these associations between sexting and these positive sexual and relationship outcomes," Stasko said. "But we don't know what the factors are that are driving those relationships."
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The researchers had hypothesized that there would be differences in sexting behavior between men and women. Instead, they found no difference along gender lines in sexting behavior. Sexting also played similar roles in relationship and sexual satisfaction for both men and women.
Sexting isn't always a benefit to relationships, of course. Context and motive matter. Individuals who felt pressured into sexting, for example, tended to report lower relationship satisfaction than those who didn't engage in unwanted sexting.
Certainly, sexting has its dangers. What starts off as a private moment between two people can be spread globally in seconds. Peer pressure, social embarrassment and sharing without consent have all strained relationships and even ruined lives.
Within the proper contexts, however, technology can be used to foster intimacy. Technology is increasingly becoming a part of relationships, particularly with the popularity of social networks and online dating. According to a study released by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 36 percent of couples together 10 years of less claimed that technology had an impact on their relationship.
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Younger adult couples were also more likely to see technology as a net benefit in their relationships, according to the Pew study. Forty-one percent of 18- to 29-year-olds in serious relationships expressed that they felt more of an emotional connection to their partners as a result of online or text message conversations, and 23 percent resolved arguments online.
Sexting isn't exclusive to younger couples, of course. The American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) noted back in 2011 "the 50-plus set, both single and married, routinely use text messaging to send tantalizing pictures and provocative words to their partner."
All of these studies go to show that sexting isn't just some behavior common among some subset of out-of-control teenagers. Adults, some likely parents and even grandparents, are using technology to be more intimate with their partners.
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