Sext messaging isn't about sex
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Researchers from Texas Tech University have been researching the motivations behind sexting behaviours, following Texas’ outlawing of sending unwanted sexually explicit pictures on September 1.

Specifically focusing on consensual adults (between 16 and 69 years old), Dr. Joseph Currin, counsellor and Assistant Professor at Texas Tech University’s Department of Psychological Sciences, has undertaken multiple studies exploring motivations for sexual behaviours. Currin says that understanding sexual behaviours can help design interventions, “like working with a client to help increase relationship intimacy”.

Earlier this month, in partnership with Kassidy Cox, Dr. Currin presented the findings on sexting at the S3X Lab in Denver, for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS) .

With sexting behaviour “rising in prevalence”, the study grouped together three motivations out of the 160 participants currently in a relationship. It found that 12% – 88% of young adults, and 36% – 43% of adults over the age of 50, engage in sexting.

However, not all sexting behaviour is directly about sex, as the researchers had identified in an earlier study, finding three main reasons.

  • Sexting for enjoyment – using it as foreplay, and often leading to other sexual behaviours
  • Sexting for attachment – this can include flirting that doesn’t lead to sexual activity, or to receive emotional reassurance in a relationship, for example.
  • Sexting for non-sexual purposes – most often to reinforce or redefine their own body image, or to impose aggressive behavior intended to achieve a goal

Surprisingly, the main motivation was not to initiate sexual behaviours, or as an intervention to increase intimacy, with two-thirds falling into the two pools of non-sexual motivations.

“This may actually be demonstrating some individuals engage in sexting, but would prefer not to, but do so as a means to either gain affirmation about their relationship, relieve anxiety or get something tangible – non-sexual – in return,” Cox said.

As noted already, the highest proportion of non-sexual sexting was for body-image reinforcement or redefinition. There were also instrumental aggressive reasons, predominantly found in heterosexual men. These have also been related to teen dating violence.

An earlier study, published in 2018, by Joris Van Ouytsel, Michel Walrave, Koen Ponnet and Jeff R. Temple, found one possible motive for younger men sexting is to brag to friends about having received sexting content. They found that “male adolescents perceive an enhancement of their social status in the peer group as a result of collecting or exposing sexting content that they have received.”

In Currin and Cox’s research, gender, however, was not a predictor for who sends a sext first. Regardless of the motivation, both senders and receivers reported feeling “excited, good and naughty” when it comes to sexting in a relationship. Senders also felt wanted and anxious, while receivers felt connected.

Read Next: UK to review laws around deepfake and revenge porn

Oli Lipski
Oli is a freelance sex tech researcher based in London. With an MA in Sexual Dissidence, researching sex tech, and a BA in History, researching gender and sexuality, she has a keen understanding of the past, present and future of sex.

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