Sexting has a bad reputation. To many, it brings to mind illicit activity or the downfall of politician Anthony Weiner. Teens who send sexually explicit photos to one another can even be charged with child pornography. But for adults, new research suggests the practice might be a marker of a good relationship.
“Overall, sexting appears to be generally good for sexual satisfaction,” said Emily Stasko, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Drexel University.
Her online survey of 870 heterosexual American adults found that people who reported sexting more frequently tended to say they had higher levels of sexual satisfaction. And for all but the most committed relationships, sexting was linked to increased relationship satisfaction.
Not all sexting was positive, however. For partnered adults participating reluctantly, sexting was associated with decreased relationship satisfaction.
“Within the context of a relationship the wantedness of sexting matters,” Stasko said.
Among those surveyed, sexting was common. Eighty-eight percent of respondents admitted to ever sexting, and 82 percent reported sexting within the past year. Those high rates, however, might not reflect the wider reality, Stasko said, because participants joined the survey after seeing a posting on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform, a crowdsourcing Internet marketplace for hiring people to perform tasks that computers can’t do. The population skewed white and female, with an average age of 35.
The results, which were presented at the American Psychological Association conference in Toronto last Saturday, begin to reframe sexting in a more favorable light, but aren’t able to get at whether sexting itself is producing desirable effects.
It’s possible, for example, that more sexually satisfied people are simply more likely to sext. Similarly, reluctant sexters might resort to the practice if they think it will improve their unhappy relationship.
“We can’t say what’s causing what at this point,” said Stasko. But, she noted, “If sexting were only bad, people wouldn’t do it as much as they do. It stands to reason there is this positive relationship and that people are getting something positive out of this behavior.”