Great Sextpectations: What Motivates Sexting?

A woman looknig at cellphone with a surprised expression.
(Image credit: Woman looking at cellphone via Shutterstock)

Men tend to think positive things will happen if they send and receive sexy text messages, whereas women have more negative expectations about such "sexting," a new study suggests.

The study is one of the first to examine what people expect when they sext — dubbed their "sextpectancies" by the researchers — and how such expectations may influence sexting behavior.

The study surveyed 278 college students (whose average age was 21), asking them about their sexting behavior, as well as their views about the outcomes of sexting. Sexting was defined as sending sexually explicit pictures or text messages by phone or through social networking sites. [9 Odd Ways Your Tech Devices May Injure You]

About 80 percent of participants reported receiving, and 67 percent reported sending, sexts through text messages, while about 46 percent reported sending and 64 percent reported receiving sexts with pictures. Most people said they did not sext frequently (less than three times a month). Men reported sending and receiving sexts more often than women.

People reported both positive and negative sextpectancies. Common positive sextpectancies were: "sexting makes one feel sexy," "sexting makes one excited," and "sexting makes it easier to flirt." Common negative sextpectancies were: "Sexting makes one embarrassed" and "sexting makes one feel uncomfortable."

Men reported more positive sextpectancies about receiving sexts, while women reported more negative ones. Single people also reported more negative sextpectancies about receiving sexts than those who were dating, living together or married.

Perhaps not surprisingly, having more positive sextpectancies was linked with more frequent sexting, while having more negative sextpectancies was linked with lower rates of sexting.

One reason women have more negative "sexpectations" may be because of the idea that society has a double standard for women — it's more acceptable for men to be promiscuous than women, said study researcher Allyson Dir, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Previous studies have found that females also have more negative views about hooking up, Dir said.

People who are single also may be taking more of a risk when sexting, compared with people who are in relationships, Dir said. Single people may be sexting with people they don't know as well, meaning the receiver could share the sext without permission, or a single person may be more likely to be rejected after a sext, Dir said.

However, given that positive expectancies were also common, "sexting doesn't seem to be as risky as the media makes it out to be," at least for college students, Dir said. Few people in the study reported negative consequences as result of sexting, Dir said.

The results may be different for adolescents and adults, and future studies are needed to examine this.

The study was published Aug. 17 in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

Follow Rachael Rettner @RachaelRettner. Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.