Lots of sexting can wreck a romance

Tech-communication shortcut undermines features of strong relationships

Helen Metella - 29 January 2018

Sexting-sharing sexual messages and images by cellphone or other web-connected devices-can spice up your sex life, but it may be at the expense of other important aspects of your relationship, says a new study led by the University of Alberta.

People who sext their romantic partner frequently (several times a week, sending both sexual words and nude or mostly nude images) or hyper-frequently (daily or more often) report greater sexual satisfaction than non-sexters and those who send words only.

However, the frequent and hyper-sexters are far less satisfied with many other aspects of their relationship, said Adam Galovan, lead author of the study and a family scientist in the Department of Human Ecology.

They have a higher degree of couple conflict and are more ambivalent about the relationship continuing than non-sexters, and also report feeling less secure attachment in their relationships and lower levels of commitment. In addition, they are more likely to view pornography and show more infidelity-related behaviours on social media.

"Sexting doesn't seem to be a feature of a healthy relationship," said Galovan, whose department lies within the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences (ALES).

"My interpretation is that the sexters are focusing more on the sexual part of their relationship and may be neglecting other areas."

This seems to be borne out by another finding in the study, he says. The frequent and hyper-sexters reported a high degree of "technology interference" in their relationship, which is a term for when a partner texts or emails during face-to-face conversations, meals or leisure time with their partner.

Evidence of letting technology take precedence over personal interaction may explain what is contributing to the poor scores in other aspects of their romance, said Galovan.

"These folks want to get to the end goal-a good relationship-without doing the hard work of talking, listening and spending quality time together," he said.

"It's the instant gratification culture-we want it now. But it's what you do to get to that goal that actually defines a good relationship. They need to put the phone down and have a good old fashioned conversation-spend some time together nurturing the relationship-instead of shortcutting with sexting to try to get a quality relationship."

The study surveyed nationally representative groups of Canadian and American adults, all in committed heterosexual or same-sex relationships, of various ages, ethnicities, income and education levels. These criteria make the sample of 615 people far broader than most previous studies of sexting, which have more often focused on young adults or teenagers, said Galovan.

The research is also notable because it defined sexters more specifically (separating them into naturally occurring groups of non-sexters, word-only, frequent and hyper sexters), whereas in earlier studies researchers arbitrarily grouped people into low, medium or high sexting groups.

While the research was motivated by a desire to understand whether this relatively new and attention-getting phenomenon of sexting is healthy or problematic for relationships, the researchers did find that it is not as rampant as some media accounts may suggest.

"Non-sexters were the largest group-and most of the sample," said Galovan, "almost 72 per cent."

The study, co-conducted by Michelle Drouin of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, and Brandon T. McDaniel of Illinois State University, is part of The Couple Well-Being Project, a larger study exploring couple relationship dynamics.

It is published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.