People Share Sexts More Than You Think

August 8th 2016

Tricia Tongco

There's a 49 percent chance you've used your smartphone to send or receive a sext.

Lots of people are sending intimate texts and photos to a romantic prospect or partner, but they probably don't know that they might have a wider audience than just that one person.

According to a new study from Indiana University, of respondents who received sexual photos via text, 23 percent of them reported sharing them with others. It gets worse – those who did choose to share those images did so with three or more friends. The results came from a survey conducted by the university, which included 5,805 single adults between the ages 21 and 75.

While nearly one-fourth of sext recipients shared sexual images with their friends, overall, 73 percent of the respondents "reported discomfort with the unauthorized sharing of sexts beyond the intended recipients."

This perplexing contradiction could best be explained by the lead author of the report, Justin Garcia, an assistant professor of gender studies and scientist at the Kinsey Institute. He told Science Daily:

"As sexting becomes more common and normative, we're seeing a contemporary struggle as men and women attempt to reconcile digital eroticism with real-world consequences."

Gender turned out to be a factor in the study. Here were some of the most interesting gender-related findings:

  • Men were 1.5 times more likely than women to send a sexual text message
  • Men were nearly twice as likely as women to share sexts they received with other people.
  • Women were more likely to be upset if their sexts were shared than men.

As a whole, the study's findings hint at the wider context of rape culture.

Sharing sexts is just one manifestation of violating someone by not obtaining their consent before performing an action. Victim-blaming, another sign of rape culture, rears its ugly head in relation to sexting. After thousands of nude photos of celebrities were posted online, a HuffPost/YouGov poll found that the vast majority of Americans say it’s at least partly your fault if your nudes leak.

As Garcia pointed out to Science Daily, the study highlights some important ethical questions regarding sexting:

"It raises the question that if someone sends something to you with the presumption that it's private and then you share it with others — which, when it comes to sexting, nearly one out of every four single Americans are doing, what do we want to consider that type of violation? Is it just bad taste? Is it criminal?"

When people regularly express their sexuality through texts or social media, it makes sense to extend the current conversation around consent to the digital realm.

[h/t Slate]