Sexting has gone mainstream among adults. A new survey out this week that suggests more than 80 percent of men and women have sexted within the last year -- and nearly 90 percent have sent or received a sexually explicit text or photo at some point in their lives.
Although sexting -- defined as sending or receiving sexually suggestive or explicit messages or images, primarily on mobile devices -- is often painted as a risky and adulterous behavior, nearly three quarters of the adults surveyed said they've sexted within the context of a relationship. And greater levels of sexting were generally linked to greater sexual satisfaction.
All of which means, as the survey's researchers argue, that it's time to reframe how we think about sexting among consenting adults.
"What's missing in most of the discourse on sexting is pleasure," Emily Stasko, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Drexel University and one of the study's researchers, told The Huffington Post. "Most of the research focuses on teens and young adults, [and in that context] of course it makes sense to worry about -- and focus on -- the risks. But there isn't a large discussion about the role sexting plays for adults and in adult relationships."
Stasko presented the survey at the American Psychological Association's Annual Meeting in Toronto, Canada, this week. She and her co-researcher Pamela Geller, an associate professor of psychology, OB-GYN and public health at Drexel University, polled 870 18 to 82-year-olds who identified as heterosexual and who completed a 20-minute online survey about their sexting behaviors. Nearly 60 percent of the survey respondents were women, and 80 percent were white.
Overall, roughly 75 percent of those who said they'd sexted had done so within the confines of a committed relationship -- and 43 percent had sexted within more casual relationships. Only 12 percent indicated they'd sexted in a relationship where cheating had taken place.
For people who identified as being in a "very" committed relationship, there was no link between sexting and sexual satisfaction -- but for people in relationships any less serious than that, there was a clear connection.
"We can't say one's causing the other," Stasko said. "It could be that greater sexual satisfaction leads to more sexting, or it could be that more sexting leads to greater satisfaction."
"Context and intent matter," she added, pointing out that when sexting was unwanted by one participant it was, unsurprisingly, bad for relationship satisfaction.
But the revelation that eight out of 10 individuals has sexted within the last year suggests adults understand that, under the right circumstances, it can be healthy and pleasurable -- and could even potentially be used in clinical intervention, Stasko said. It's academic researchers and media outlets that have been slow to embrace sexting's more positive side.
"I'm not saying that we as a society need to spend a lot more time talking about sexting," Stasko said, "but I do think [media and the research worlds] should embrace the fact that it can be a part of healthy sexual communication."
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