Let’s Talk about Sext
Emerging adults often struggle with social anxiety, particularly around relationships, sexuality and body image. With this explosion of technology, it is understandable that they would make use of it to ease the discomfort of taking risks around developing and maintaining relationships. They rationalize that sexting is a healthy way to express their sexuality because they are not exposing themselves to sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and the emotional upheaval of a physically sexual relationship. By exchanging nude photos or photos of themselves scantily dressed in provocative poses, these young adults can explore their burgeoning sexuality in what may appear to be a less risky arena.
This sense of safety can be deceptive. The incident of the young woman mentioned earlier in this article may be an extreme example, but I know firsthand of an instance where a young woman was brought to the brink of suicide after being coerced by someone to send a nude photo that was then distributed throughout school the next day. These women may be so traumatized by the experience that they seek psychiatric care, choose to move to another school or drop out. When surveyed by Renfrow and Rollo, college students claim to receive more sexts than they send, and most are sent by females. In a review of literature, they found five tentative patterns.
Sexting exchanges frequently take three forms: the sending and receiving of sexts between individuals within a romantic relationship, the exchanging of sexts between individuals who hope to be but are not yet in a romantic relationship, and the sharing of received sexts with a third party.
Common reasons for sending sexually suggestive messages include being “fun” or “flirtatious,” sending a “sexy present” to someone special, and replying to a sext.
Sexting is most common among older teens and is less common among older adults. Adults who do send and receive sexts, however, tend to be sexually active.
Individuals consistently report concern that their sexually suggestive messages may be shared with unintended others. A sizable minority of teens and adults have either shared sexts that they have received or had someone share one of their sexts with other people.
Some teens and young adults believe that sexting practices may impact real life, such as facilitating dating or hookups.
According to Renfrow and Rollo, the college students surveyed reported they sext to establish romantic relationships, as a fun way to flirt or as a joke among friends. Often young women feel pressured to send sexualized images of themselves in hopes of starting a relationship or maintaining one. They fear losing a partner or potential partner to a woman who is willing to engage in sexting.
In their study, Renfrow and Rollo state that college-aged women report having a greater moral dilemma than their male counterparts when it comes to this issue. Young women want to have meaningful relationships while safely exploring their budding sexuality. They report wanting to be sexy without turning into sex objects. Both college-aged men and women report they are careful to send sexts that limit explicitness. If they do send a more explicit photo, they are careful to crop out their heads and avoid showing any identifiable marks, clothing or surroundings.