People Sext When They Don't Really Want To, Study Finds

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23:  Anthony Weiner, a leading candidate for New York City mayor, stands with his wife Huma Abedin during
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: Anthony Weiner, a leading candidate for New York City mayor, stands with his wife Huma Abedin during a press conference on July 23, 2013 in New York City. Weiner addressed news of new allegations that he engaged in lewd online conversations with a woman after he resigned from Congress for similar previous incidents. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

“Not tonight, honey, I have a headache” can spare lovers from sex. But it won’t save them from sexts.

While headlines proclaim young adults are hooked on the joys of sexting, a forthcoming study examining the practice has found college-age sexters in committed relationships frequently engage in unwanted sexting, and will exchange explicit message or photos for reasons that have little to do with attraction or arousal.

Call it the “requisext”: an X-rated missive sent out of a sense of necessity or obligation, but not purely for pleasure. They're more common than many might realize, and are sent nearly as frequently by men and women.

The research, which will be published in February in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, reveals similarities between sexual behavior online and off. Previous research on couples’ sex lives has demonstrated that partners will willingly go along with sex, even when they’re not keen on it, for reasons that range from pleasing their partner to avoiding an argument. On smartphones and over email, e-sex happens for many of the same reasons.

Working to understand the frequency of “consensual but unwanted sexting” -- scientist-speak for “sexting when you’re not in the mood” -- psychologists at Indiana University-Purdue University For Wayne polled 155 undergraduates who were or had been in committed relationships on their sexting habits.

Fifty-five percent of the female respondents said they had previously engaged in unwanted sexting, while 48 percent of men had done the same. Those numbers are surprisingly similar to previous findings on so-called “compliant sexual activity”: A 1994 report determined that 55 percent of American women and 35 percent of American men had ever engaged in consensual but unwanted sex.

But while women have typically far outnumbered men in having unwanted sexual activity the old-fashioned way, the rates of requisexting were not drastically higher among women, the study found. In this case, equality for the sexes means near-equality in unwanted sexting.

The authors of the article argued "gender-role expectations" could be to blame. Men might be more likely to agree to undesired sexting because doing so is "relatively easy and does not require them to invest more into the relationship." Women in turn might be discouraged from virtual sex because it fails to help them attain their relationship "goals," the authors hypothesized.

So what makes people feel the need to requisext -- especially when the evidence can so easily come back to haunt them?

The survey's respondents were asked to rate ten possible motivations for their begrudging sexts, ranging from “I was bored” to “I was taking drugs.”

People most frequently consented to unwanted sexting because they sought to flirt, engage in foreplay, satisfy a partner’s need or foster intimacy in their relationship. The researchers also found that people who were anxious about their relationships -- specifically, who feared abandonment by or alienation from their lovers -- were more likely to be requisexters. Digital communication could be “especially challenging” for these anxious lovers, who might increase their sexting in an attempt to make distant lovers seem closer, the study's authors speculated.

On the other hand, those sick of requisexting might soon be coming up with some clever "outs." Next time, just claim you have a thumbache.