A middle-aged woman I know recently confessed that she’s been doing quite a bit of provocative, R-rated texting with a man she’s involved with.
When I referred to it as “sexting” she was shocked. “It’s not like we’re sending naked pictures back and forth,” she said. “Just a little suggestive ‘What are you wearing?’ kind of thing. It’s fun.”
Welcome to the new world of sexting.
It turns out grownups in committed relationships are, increasingly, doing it for pleasure and “fun,” as one survey found. Also, according to researchers, the whole concept of “sexting” has evolved, or at least is evolving: from a risky, sordid and sometimes-dangerous activity among teens, to, as one therapist (more below) says, a way to add some sexual “simmering” to a relationship that may need spicing up. Even the AARP acknowledges the trend: “…the reality is that more and more of the 50-plus set, both single and married, routinely use text messaging to send tantalizing pictures and provocative words to their partner…”
Indeed, sexting may be more popular among adults than you think.
A new survey on sexting found that 88 percent of respondents, ages 18-82, said they’d done it, and 82 percent said they’d done it in the past year (including the 82-year-old). Also, nearly 75 percent said they sexted in the context of a committed relationship, while 43 percent said they sexted as part of a casual relationship. (On the darker side, 12 percent reported sexting someone “in a cheating relationship.”) The findings were presented at the American Psychological Association annual convention in Toronto earlier this month in a paper called: “Reframing Sexting as a Positive Relationship Behavior.”
(Photo illustration by Mike Licht/Flickr, taking inspiration from the artist Edward Armitage)
The survey of 870 heterosexual individuals in the U.S. also found that in general, more sexting was associated with a higher level of sexual satisfaction. More than half of the responses came from women; the average age of participants was 35, according to the study authors.
On one level, it’s not surprising that sexting is becoming more mainstream.
“If we look at how technology has been integrated into our society — it’s so much part of our daily lives — it makes sense that it would become part of our dating and sexual lives as well,” said Emily Stasko, MPH, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Drexel University in Philadelphia and the survey’s co-author, along with Pamela Geller, PhD, associate professor of psychology, ob/gyn and public health at Drexel.
Attitudes about sexting seem to be changing too. The survey found that people who sexted more rated it as more “carefree and fun” and had higher beliefs that sexting was expected in their relationships.
(Sexting, for the purposes of the survey, was defined broadly as sending or receiving sexually suggestive or explicit content via text message, mainly using a mobile device, Stasko said.)
Of course, this doesn’t mean that every grownup out there is under the covers with their phone at night shooting off racy texts. These survey findings are preliminary, and come with big caveats, Stasko says. The findings may not be representative: Participants were recruited online and responded to a posting asking them to take a survey about sexting, so the sample could be skewed toward more seasoned sexters.
Don’t Forget Pleasure
The main goal of the study was to look at sexting through a new filter, Stasko said. The practice has historically been viewed as a risky activity among teens, associated with other sexual risk-taking (like having unprotected sex) and negative health outcomes, like sexually transmitted infections. She said she and her colleagues wanted to reevaluate sexting in a new light — as a potential positive force in a relationship and a way to potentially enhance open sexual communication. “There seems to be a missing discourse about pleasure,” Stasko said. “We wanted to talk not just about risk, but also introduce the idea that pleasure is a part of it.”
The takeaway, she said, is that when sexting is wanted by both parties, is can be a good thing. “The findings show a robust relationship between sexting and sexual and relationship satisfaction,” the study concludes.
Aline P. Zoldbrod, Ph.D., a certified sex therapist in Lexington, Massachusetts, agrees that sexting can play an important role in adult relationships.
I asked her for her thoughts on the survey, and here’s what she wrote:
Sexting is not just for hookups, as a follow up to an interlude on sex chat roulette or for trolling on Craigslist. Sexting actually has some amazing benefits for people in ongoing relationships. Continue reading