“Let’s Talk about TEXTS Baby”: The Reality of Sexting

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It’s no secret that how young people maintain their relationships today looks vastly different than past generations. Love letters and even phone calls have been replaced by texting, camera phones, and real-time apps like Snapchat. Technology has changed how we maintain our relationships… but is this for the better?

Sexting is quickly becoming a common trend for the millennial generation. Teens and adults alike are picking up their phones and putting down their standards to test and explore different identities.

[Sexting:] any interactive exchange of sexual-oriented messages using a digital mobile communications device – sending and receiving sexually suggestive images, videos, or texts on cell phones.

But what does research tell us about this activity that is quickly becoming the norm? TRR is here to give you a reality check about your what your sexts say about your identity, communication, and relationships.

sexting barney

Sexting affects women and men differently.

Studies show both men and women are sexting, and relatively at the same frequency… however females feel more pressure to engage in sexting than their male counterparts. Women report feeling pressure to sext in order to appear desirable or gain approval from others. Unfortunately, women are also judged more harshly when it comes to sexting: both males and females believed women were more harmed by sexting and that women and not men were the prime ‘victims of sexting’. After engaging in sexting, women are more likely to adorn the label “slut” for sending sexts; or “prude” for refusing to sext.  For the most part, men mostly lack these consequences.

Your sexts say more about you than you think.

Previous researchers have linked our attachment style to future behaviors in our romantic relationships. In short, how we were raised when we were young affects how we view our selves and others when we are older. Sexting research says those who grew up with anxious attachment styles (think: having parents who were distracted or preoccupied with other things and did not show consistent parenting habits) may feel the need to engage in sexting in hopes to preserve a relationship or maintain the interest of their romantic partner. Snapping a nude or sending sexual content provides them with a ‘safety net’ to entice their partner back and reduce their anxiety.

Sexting can affect your mental well-being.

Researchers show sexting has social, psychological, and physical associations with mental, physical and public health. Fear is heavily associated with sexting. Adolescents express a fear that sexting will affect their reputation with friends, parents, teachers, or even future employers. Both men and women report lower levels of mental well-being and overall mental state leading up to and after sexting, and increased stress and anxiety levels. Additionally, this activity has been directly linked to the vulnerability of cyber bullying, an increasing problem linked to depression and even suicide.

Sexting could land you in jail.

Unfortunately, sexting is not always consensual. Some report receiving suggestive photos, videos, or texts without explicitly agreeing to be part of the activity. Others report engaging in sexting only after being coerced by others. Even worse, what happens when your relationship ends but the sexting evidence is there to stay? Many states have now enacted “Revenge Porn Laws”. This law punishes those who publicly share sexually explicit media without the consent of the individual(s) in the content. (think: forwarding that scandalous picture of your ex to others; screenshotting and showing your friends those X-rated text convos). If convicted of this crime, individuals could pay heavy fines, serve jail time, or even end up on the sex offenders registry.

SO WHY ARE SO MANY PEOPLE ENGAGING IN THIS ‘RISKY’ ACTIVITY?

sexting munoas

Celebs told us to do it.

We hate to admit it, but we follow what celebrities do. The Paris Hiltons and Kim Kardashians of the world have taught us that it is ok to make a living off of sexually explicit material. Pop star Instagram accounts alone could be labeled in the sexting category.  Research shows teens especially are sexting not to document their sexual acts, but to abide by the current promiscuous status of our contemporary culture.

Sexting is considered the norm.

Although research mostly looks at the dark side of this activity, sexting has been seen as a positive in young relationships where it serves as a step in the flirting process. For millennials, positive attitudes towards sexting include an overwhelming acceptance of this activity as normal and even expected between partners at a certain commitment level. Sexting has also been linked to hopeful popularity among young teens.  Research says the normative climate and desire for approval motivates millennials to sext despite the known risks of sexting.

Sexting can be beneficial at times to your relationships.

When asked about sexting, most adolescents associated the word with flirting, romance, and/or sex. For many, sexting is seen as a way to build rapport and strengthen romantic bonds. Millennials even report that exchanging these forms of messages enhances their relationship where sexts serve as proof of liking, admiration, and desire between two people. Sexting can help maintain relationships, especially if geographic distance makes interaction (including sexual interaction) difficult.  Sexting may even help balance the need for both predictability and novelty in a relationship: where we want routine but also something to ‘spice up’ our encounters.

The reality of sexting: it’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, it has become the norm and almost expected in our current dating relationships, where sexts prove beneficial to the development of new partnerships. However, sexting has harsh implications where our reputation, health, and even future are put at risk. Next time think before you take it off and pick up the phone.

**If you feel you are a victim of revenge porn, please click here – get help and take action. 

-BMO-

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Drouin, M., & Landgraff, C. (2012). Texting, sexting, and attachment in college students’ romantic relationships. Computers in Human Behavior28(2), 444-449.

Lippman, J. R., & Campbell, S. W. (2014). Damned if you do, damned if you don’t… if you’re a girl: Relational and normative contexts of adolescent sexting in the United States. Journal of Children and Media8(4), 371-386.

Manning, J. (2013). Doing It| Interpretive Theorizing in the Seductive World of Sexuality and Interpersonal Communication: Getting Guerilla with Studies of Sexting and Purity Rings. International Journal of Communication7, 14.

Tungate, A. (2014). Bare necessities: the argument for a ‘revenge porn’ exception in Section 230 immunity. Information & Communications Technology Law23(2), 172-188.

Vanden Abeele, M., Campbell, S. W., Eggermont, S., & Roe, K. (2014). Sexting, mobile porn use, and peer group dynamics: boys’ and girls’ self-perceived popularity, need for popularity, and perceived peer pressure. Media Psychology17(1), 6-33. 

Weisskirch, R. S., & Delevi, R. (2011). “Sexting” and adult romantic attachment. Computers in Human Behavior27(5), 1697-1701.

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