“Sexting” may be just a normal thing

“Sexting” may be just a normal part of dating for Internet generation

For the young adults of today, who were weaned on iPods and Internet, the practice of “sexting,” or sending sexually explicit photos or messages through phones, may be just another normal, healthy component of modern dating.

University of Michigan researchers looked at the sexting behavior of 3,447 men and women aged 18-24, and found that while sexting is very common, sexting 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, said Jose Bauermeister, an assistant professor in the U-M School of Public Health and co-principal investigator of the study.

However, most of those negative stories involve sexting among pre-teens and teenagers, and the U-M study group was considerably older, said Debbie Gordon-Messer, a study co-author.

“For younger age groups, legality is an issue,” said Gordon-Messer. “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 said. Previous studies on sexting focus on demographics; 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 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, Bauermiester said.

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

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

The study, “Sexting among young adults” was produced jointly by the Sexuality and Health Lab, which Bauermeister directs, and the Prevention Research Center of Michigan, led by professor Marc Zimmerman, who is also a co-principal investigator on the paper.  The U-M SPH houses both centers. Alison Grodzinski of the PMRC is also a co-author.

The paper will appear in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

For more on the Bauermeister: http://www.sph.umich.edu/iscr/faculty/profile.cfm?uniqname=jbauerme

For more on the Sexuality and Health Lab: https://sexlab.sph.umich.edu

For more on the PRC: http://prc.sph.umich.edu/

The University of  Michigan  School of Public Health has been promoting health and preventing disease since 1941, and is ranked among the top public health schools in the nation. Whether making new discoveries in the lab or researching and educating in the field, our faculty, students, and alumni are deployed around the globe to promote and protect our health. http://www.sph.umich.edu/

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