We know that sexting can ruin political careers or lead to arrests. But as long as both participants are adults, it's legal, and a study presented last weekend at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association suggests that it may also be part of lots of committed relationships.
That might sound obvious, but most research on sexting has focused on its possible negative effects for teenagers (and by the way, found no evidence that it's correlated with risky sexual behaviours). Emily Stasko, a doctoral candidate at Drexel University, and her advisor, psychologist Pamela Geller, wanted to see what role sexting plays in adult relationships.
Using Amazon's Mechanical Turk, they were able to survey 870 heterosexual men and women ranging in age from 18 to 82 about their sexting behaviour, their satisfaction with their romantic relationships, and their sexual satisfaction. They found that almost everyone (88% of their respondents) had sent or received a sexually suggestive message over the internet at some point in their lives. Most of the people they surveyed — 82% — had sent or gotten one during the past year. Women were just as likely to send sexts as men.
So far, Stasko and Geller have only analysed their pooled data, so they can't yet tell if some people are more likely to send their partners suggestive photos than others. But they did see that the way adults view sexting within their romantic relationship is important. When a person looks forward to exchanging some spicy texts with their partner, more frequent sexting is correlated with greater satisfaction with the relationship. But when a person doesn't want or like sexts, more frequent sexting is tied to lower relationship satisfaction.
"Not all sexting is equal. Like most types of communication, content and intent matter," says Stasko. She hopes that her research can eventually be applied to couples therapy, by figuring out if (and when) sexting can be used to improve intimacy. For now, be aware that people can have very different ideas of what they find sexy, so it's wise to make sure your opposite number actually wants to read those explicit plans for later tonight.