Gareth May | Contributing Writer | Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Can Sexting Save Your Relationship?

Science Says Sexting Can Save Your Relationship

The Debrief: Sexting gets a bad rep but studies show it can actually be good for your relationship

When I was commissioned to write about the positive side of sexting I thought it only right that I go and research the subject. What can I say? I’m a pro. One 12-hour sext fest with a complete and utter stranger later and I was Googling ‘thumb strain’ and ‘penile chafing’. Yes. That’s a real thing. No. I didn’t really have it. But if I did… it would’ve totally been worth it.

Despite my obvious keenness, it’s fair to say that sexting has always had a bit of a bad rep. In 2012, an academic study concluded that sexting amongst adolescents was part of a number of risky sexual behaviours, including unprotected sex. This was followed by another study in 2014, in the Journal of Adolescent Health, that revealed sharing of sexual images was associated with multiple sexual partners – and drug taking. 

Now – thank god – it’s the turn of the sex positive academics with a new study out of the US entitled Reframing Sexting as a Positive Relationship Behavior, which concluded that sexting is 'good for sexual satisfaction.' Conducted by the Drexel University’s doctoral student Emily Stasko and Professor Pamela Geller (who runs the Women’s Health Psychology Lab) the study surveyed 870 US nationals aged between 18-82 on the prevalence of sexting and their attitudes towards it.

Stasko and Geller defined sexting as: sexually suggestive photos, photos in lingerie or underwear, nude photos, sexually suggestive texts, explicit texts propositioning sexual activity. Also bear in mind that half of the sample was female, the study wasn’t adolescent-centric but rather adult focussed, and that the majority of the participants were white and heterosexual.

Here are the main findings: 82% of the participants had sexted at some point in the last year; 75% of participants reported that the majority of sexting took place within a committed relationship; within those relationships, higher levels of sexting was associated with greater sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction; only participants who described their relationship as 'very committed' reported a negative impact because the sexting was 'unwanted'.

It’s worth noting that this was an online survey and we can therefore deduce that the majority of participants are tech-savvy. 

That said, 82% is a pretty big figure and the findings do fly in the face of the notion that sexting is reserved for trigger-happy Tinderers with craft beer-breath and kebab hanging from their chin. Couples are doing it. Boom.

So how exactly is sexting good for your relationship?

'Sexting has received growing attention as a risky activity, associated with numerous other risk-taking behaviours,' Stasko stated when she presented the study at the American Psychological Association's 123rd Annual Convention in Toronto, Canada. 'This approach fails to account for the possible effects of open sexual communication with a partner.'

The study found that the majority of participants who reported sexting having a positive impact considered it a 'carefree' activity, not a 'moment of intimacy' suggesting that most people don’t take it as serious as some would have us believe. In other words, it’s fun.

It’s also a brilliant way of communicating one’s need and fantasies and, of course, getting off. But above all else sexting allows us to learn about our partner’s sexual interests, it teaches us patience and it’s something that doesn’t discriminate – everyone can sext, it doesn’t matter what you look like, where you live or how socially awkward you are. 

'Sexting is a behaviour that people do for many different reasons,' said Stasko. 'It's a type of sexual communication and it's one that might help people develop the types of relationship that they want [and] actually make it easier to talk about sex for those who might have a more difficult time of it face to face.'

Of course, ‘sexting’ is nothing new. James Joyce was jerking off to letters from Nora a hundred years a go and when the Polaroid camera became popular, the American youth were snapping the contents of their underpants just as much as they do today.

The advancement of technology has certainly upped the ante with Snapchat, audio files, photos and messaging making sexts more exciting and expressive than ever before but surely that’s something we should embrace?

Eileen Yaghoobian is a documentary director and the founder of the website Send Me Your Sexts, a 'service and an online video platform' that takes real life sext messages and turns them into hilarious short form web vids. 

Yaghoobian has read thousands of strangers’ sexts and she tells me that 'sexting is the ultimate confessional, because sexual fantasies are pleasurable, visceral, dangerous, fun, raw, authentic and represent risqué thoughts you don't dare to say aloud.

Sexts are 'the best sex of the mind,' she adds.

It’s not all rosy though. Sexting has its pitfalls and I’m not referencing autocorrect (my phone once insisted on turning ‘knickers’ into ‘knackers’. Awkward). Step forward, revenge porn.

'Sexting is for sharing and unfortunately sometimes stealing,' Yaghoobian says. 'Most people use sexting as social currency but it depends on their intent and distribution platform. A dick pic can be sent to everyone and can be instantly globally scrutinized because of tech [but] it’s not the act of sexting that is bad it’s who you choose to sext and what they do with it and if people didn’t care about the sharing part, than shaming culture would go away.'

Whether shaming culture would totally vanish without non-consensual posting I’m not so sure, but Yaghoobian certainly makes a good point in that sexting is a kind of social currency and it has both a positive and a negative value. A sext – as Send Me Your Sexts reveals – offers a glimpse of our sexual selves and that’s something, sadly, that is all too often exploited by others and by societal views on sexuality as a whole. Conversely, sexual expression is frankly a beautiful thing – and if sexting is facilitating that, I’m all for it.

'In reframing the conversation about sexting, we need to discuss it as a behaviour that can be both good and bad,' Stasko says. 'Sexting is a normal part of many adult relationships. There is a tendency to sensationalize or villainize it, but our findings indicate that sexting can have a role in a happy and healthy relationship.'

Like this? Then you might also be interested in:

Non-Cringe Sexting Suggestions That Actually Work

The Stages Of Sexting Throughout Your Relationship

Why Message Culture Is Fucking Up Our Relationships

Follow Gareth on Twitter @garethmay

Picture: Ada Hamza

Tags: Sex, Sex O\'Clock, Relationships