On February 13th I presented “Mobile Love” at “Sexpertise,” a three-day conference on sexuality and relationships organized by University Health Services and Sexperteam. The event focused on how sexting via mobile media (such as SnapChat, Tinder and Grindr) can affect relationship dynamics, healthy communication between partners, and online safety and privacy.
Sexting, or sharing sexually suggestive photos or messages through cell phones and other media, is a popular form of sexual communication among teens and young adults. Popular media reports of celebrity sexting scandals, politicians caught sending extramarital sexts, and cases of sexual harassment have spurred debate on the various legal and social repercussions of sexting. While surveys conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy provided insight on the “who, what, when, where and why” of sexting, prior to 2012 very little research focused on the relationship between sexting and overall well-being.
In 2012, the SexLab, in collaboration with other researchers from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, conducted a study to measure associations between sexting and sexual risk behavior and psychological well-being among young adults. In a nationwide study of more than 3,400 heterosexual young adults, researchers found that sexting did not lead to increased sexual risk behavior or psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. In 2013, the SexLab conducted a similar study on a nationwide sample of young men who have sex with men (YMSM). While sexting was found to be more prevalent among YMSM, the study concluded that it was not associated with sexual risk behavior and that there was limited support for a relationship between sexting and psychological well-being.
After discussing the research findings, audience members completed a small group activity in which they considered things that might be important to them if they decided to either send or receive a sext. These characteristics were separated into “Essential,” “Tolerable,” “Bonus” and “Deal Breaker.” Many participants volunteered their answers in a lively discussion about expectations of privacy, proper sexting etiquette, and the growing threat of “Revenge Porn” (sexually explicit texts or pictures that are publicly shared without the consent of the pictured individual). Thoughtful audience participation indicated that there is a strong interest among college students in how sexting and mobile dating applications continue to transform the modern dating scene.