For young adults, ‘sexting’ just part of dating

U. MICHIGAN (US) — For today’s young adults who grew up with smart phones and the internet, “sexting” may be just another normal, healthy component of dating.

University of Michigan researchers looked at the sexting behavior of 3,447 men and women ages 18-24 and found that while sexting—sending explicit messages or images by phone—is very common, it isn’t associated with sexually risky behaviors or with psychological problems.


The findings contradict the public perception of sexting, which is often portrayed in the media and elsewhere as unsavory, deviant, or even criminal behavior, says Jose Bauermeister, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health and co-principal investigator of the study, which will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

However, most of those negative stories involve sexting among pre-teens and teenagers, while this study group was considerably older, says co-author Debbie Gordon-Messer.

“For younger age groups, legality is an issue,” Gordon-Messer says. “They are also in a very different place in their sexual development.”

This is the first known study to connect sexting with a behavioral outcome, Bauermeister says. Previous studies on sexting focus on demographic—in other words, who is doing the sexting, not how sexting impacts the health of the participants.

The researchers found that nearly half of the study respondents participated in sexting. Most people who reported receiving “sexts” also reported sending them, which suggests that sexting is reciprocal and likely happens between romantic partners.

The researchers asked study participants about the number of sexual partners with whom they have had unprotected sex. The participants who “sexted” did not report riskier sexual behavior than those who didn’t. Nor did they report more depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem, Bauermeister says.

In the larger picture, the sexting research is a very important piece of understanding how technology impacts sexuality and health, Bauermeister says.

“We have to keep paying attention to how technology influences our lives, including our sexuality and our sexual behavior,” he says.

The study was produced jointly by the Sexuality and Health Lab, which Bauermeister directs, and the Prevention Research Center of Michigan, led by Marc Zimmerman, co-principal investigator on the study and a professor of public health and psychology. The University of Michigan School of Public Health houses both centers. Alison Grodzinski of the Prevention Research Center of Michigan is also a co-author.

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