It found that 73 percent of participants “reported discomfort with the unauthorized sharing of sexts beyond the intended recipients,” and that “of those who received sext photos, 23 percent reported sharing them with others.”
Of those who do share those images, they do so on average with more than three friends.
“That finding suggests that the real risk of sexting is the potential for nonconsensual sharing of sext messages,” said Justin Garcia, who led the study, “Sexting among singles in the USA: Prevalence of sending, receiving, and sharing sexual messages and images.
Garcia is a Ruth Halls Assistant Professor for Gender Studies and a research scientist at the Kinsey Institute.
They examined sexting behavior among a national sample of 5,805 single adults between the ages of 21 and 75. Sexting was defined as “the transmission of sexual images and messages via cell phone or other electronic device.”
“Of those surveyed, 21 percent, or nearly one in five people, reported sending sext messages, and 28 percent reported receiving sexually explicit text messages,” a press release accompanying the study’s findings reads. “Furthermore, 16 percent reported sending sexual photos and more than 23 percent reported receiving sexual photos. The study also found that most sexting happens between couples already in an established relationship, and of those who sent messages, 66 percent of men and 78 percent of women did so to flirt with a relationship partner.”
The practice appears to be more popular among men and younger generations.
“The study also found that sexting is more prominent among younger respondents — and men were 1.5 times more likely than women to send a sexy text,” the release reads.
“There has been a lot of public concern about sexting practices, but there hasn’t been enough research examining whether these concerns are justified, examining how people perceive and experience the relative costs and benefits of sexting,” Garcia said. “There has also been almost no research looking at sexting practices in large national samples like ours, assessing patterns across major demographic categories including age, gender and sexual orientation.”
This data should add to the conversations around sexting and privacy.
“It raises the question that if someone sends something to you with the presumption that it’s private and then you share it with others — which, when it comes to sexting, nearly one out of every four single Americans are doing, what do we want to consider that type of violation?” Garcia asks. “Is it just bad taste? Is it criminal?”
The study shows that women are more upset by sharing than men on average, and that men are more likely to share the images with others than are women.
“For some, sexting may lead to positive outcomes such as increased partner intimacy and satisfaction,” Garcia added. “For others, it may lead to negative outcomes such as lowered self-esteem or damage to reputation. But the real risk is not the sending of sexual messages and images per se, but rather the nonconsensual distribution of those materials to other parties. As sexting becomes more common and normative, we’re seeing a contemporary struggle as men and women attempt to reconcile digital eroticism with real-world consequences.”
A previous study out of Drexel University found that 88 percent of respondents said they had sexted at some point in their lives, with 82 percent having done so in the past year. They had a sample size of 870 heterosexual adults between the ages of 18 and 82.
In another study, college students reported that nearly half of their sexts were lies, with women lying during sexting twice as often as men.