What Your Sexting Habits Say About Your Relationship

Photographed by Natalia Mantini.
When it comes to sexting, there are plenty of misconceptions about the nature of this oh-so-debated sexual act (see "The Dangers Of Sexting" headlines). But it turns out that the actual research on our sexting behavior reveals some interesting, counterintuitive things about its influence on modern relationships. For example, it turns out sexting might be just as much a part of modern monogamy as it is a part of hookup culture — and maybe even more so. While there's nothing wrong with experimenting with sexting outside of a relationship, sending sexy texts or photos may actually predict the presence of a committed relationship, researchers found in a 2011 study published in Computers in Human Behavior.

Through a questionnaire that asked 459 heterosexual, unmarried undergraduate students about sexting habits, dating anxiety, attachment style, and the level of commitment they needed to feel comfortable sexting, the researchers found that sexting was more common among people with stable romantic partners than people without. Upon diving deeper into their data, the research team was surprised by the study's findings, researcher Rob Weisskirch explained in an article for The Conversation. The researchers' initial hypothesis was that people with insecure attachment styles (those who, according to attachment theory, are less secure in their intimate relationships and more anxious about a partner leaving) and higher anxiety about being single in general, would have higher rates of sexting. Although the researchers did find a link between worrying about what a partner thinks of you and sexting behavior, they also found that people who tended to have more secure attachment styles actually sexted more. In other words, sexting is related to comfort with intimate relationships, rather than insecure attachment. "What this tells us is that people may be concerned with pleasing their partner's desire — or perceived desire — to engage in sexting, and that it is the comfort with intimacy in relationships that may allow sexting to occur. And, when there is greater relationship commitment, this continues to be the case," Weisskirch wrote.
Other research has found that, beyond being a possible predictor of relationship commitment, sexting is actually a highly common behavior among adults and can even be beneficial in certain types of relationships. The study, presented last year at the American Psychological Association Convention, surveyed 870 Americans from ages 18 to 82, and found that over 80% of participants had sexted in the last year. With the exception of those in "very committed" relationships, sexting was associated with higher relationship satisfaction. "This research indicates that sexting is a prevalent behavior that adults engage in for a variety of reasons. Although the relationship between sexting and relationship satisfaction requires further attention, these findings indicate a robust relationship between sexting and sexual satisfaction," the study reads. Finally (we wish this would go without saying), sexting requires consent between partners just like anything else. In a 2015 study, also from Computers in Human Behavior, that surveyed 480 undergraduates, researchers from Indiana University found that about one fifth of participants had experienced sexting coercion. When nonconsensual or coercive, sexting is an act of intimate partner violence that needs to be taken seriously. All of this tells us that sexting really isn't that different from, you know, regular sex: It happens when people are in committed relationships, a lot of people do it, and it should be consensual. So, as long as you're in the mood and you've gotten the go-ahead from your partner, you can feel free to send that sexy message. Need help thinking of what to say? We've got you covered.

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