Sexting can lead to dissing.
That appears to be one takeaway from a small survey of North American adults in committed relationships who share explicit visuals and/or texts via mobile phones with each other.
While the survey suggests that some couples who engage in sexting do see improvements in their real-world sex life, the virtual practice was linked to a rise in ambivalence about the relationship. It was also tied to an increased penchant for viewing porn and engaging in other potentially unfaithful online behavior.
The bottom-line finding, said study author Michelle Drouin, is that while “sexting might relate to [increased] sexual satisfaction, it is also related to negative aspects of relationship functioning.”
Frequent weekly sexters and daily “hyper” sexters may end up seeing their relationship undermined by greater conflict, more insecurity and weakened commitment, she cautioned.
The practice may also ratchet up a dynamic known as “technoference,” Drouin added, in which one partner’s use of technology — at the dinner table or while simply hanging out, for example — is perceived by the other partner as bad for the relationship.
Drouin is a developmental psychologist at Purdue University in Fort Wayne, Ind.
The research initially focused on a pool of 615 adults from the United States and Canada. Three-fifths were women, and three-quarters were white. All were in a committed relationship. No one was older than 66, and the couples had been together an average of nearly 19 years.
Drouin noted that “the likelihood that adult couples are sexting decreases with age,” probably because of “age-related differences in technology usage, sexual behavior or relationship stage.”
So the researchers focused on a subgroup of 365 respondents who were under the age of 50.
The group was then divided into four different categories: those who never texted (57 percent); word-only texters, who occasionally sent non-visual sext messages (21 percent); frequent weekly texters, who sent explicit texts and images (13 percent); and hyper-texters who sent both explicit texts and images on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day (9 percent).
Those who never sexted reported just as much relationship satisfaction as those who did sext, but weekly and daily sexters reported more sexual satisfaction with their partner.
But weekly and/or daily sexting was also linked to a weakening of the ties that bind, the poll suggested, with the research team concluding that “sexting among committed relationship partners does not appear to be associated with positive relationship characteristics or outcomes.”
The researchers noted that “a greater percentage of people in same-sex relationships were frequent or hyper-sexters.”
According to Joseph Currin, an assistant professor of counseling psychology at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, “Sexting is still a somewhat complex behavior that is just now beginning to be somewhat understood.”
He noted that “sexting can range from sending sexually suggestive — sometimes perceived as ‘flirty’ — messages, all the way to sexually explicit videos. As in all behaviors, there are positive and negative aspects to it.”
But, ultimately, “sexting is a sexual activity” in which “consent is a big part, just as with any other sexual activity,” Currin explained.
“If both parties engaging in sexting want to, then it can enhance the relationship,” he suggested. “However, if someone does not, then it can harm it.”
Drouin and her colleagues, Adam Galovan of the University of Alberta in Canada and Brandon McDaniel of Illinois State University, were scheduled to present the findings Thursday in San Francisco at a meeting of the American Psychological Association. Research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until it is published in a peer-review journal.
There’s more on how to foster a healthy relationship at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.