BY: Carissa Harvey, M.A.
Recent studies on sexting reveal positive outcomes for those who sext (e.g., improved sexual intimacy between partners; Drouin, Coupe, & Temple, 2017). However, negative perceptions of this specific sexual behavior persist. This is especially true with respect to the acceptability of sexting for women versus men, which is the essence of the sexual double standard (SDS; in which women are judged more harshly for engaging in similar sexual behavior as men; Papp et al., 2015). Although two qualitative studies on sexting and the SDS reveal that sexting is viewed as desirable for men but not for women (Ringrose, Harvey, Gill, & Livingstone, 2012), we still do not understand what specifically influences judgments of those who engage in sexting.
Thus, myself and Dr. Ashley Thompson conducted a study in which U.S. adults were asked to judge the morality of hypothetical men and women engaged in sexting in casual and committed relationships. Contrary to previous research, the results indicated that men sexters were judged as less moral than were women sexters. In addition, those who sexted in a casual relationship were judged as less moral than were those who sexted in a committed relationship.
The results of this study are illuminating in that they reveal the specific contexts in which individuals may be judged negatively for sexting. In fact, negative perceptions of sexting outside the confines of a committed relationship is supported by previous research which finds that we hold positive judgments toward others who engage in sexual activity with someone they know in comparison to someone they are not familiar with (Brand, 2015). This is especially true for sexting, as many view sexting with casual partners as “risky” or even “dangerous” (Brand, 2015).
Additionally, the tendency for participants to view male sexters as less moral than female sexters is consistent with emerging research documenting the existence of a reverse sexual double standard (in which men are judged more harshly than women for engaging in high sexual activity; Papp et al., 2015). It is possible that the appearance of the reverse sexual double standard is a result of recent prominent societal movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp (Foubert, Tatum, & Godin, 2010). In fact, because these movements draw attention to the negative sexual experiences that women endure, people may be more inclined to scrutinize men’s sexual behavior. This, in combination with concerns related to perpetuating socially unacceptable attitudes and beliefs (Tourangeau & Yan, 2007), may explain why hypothetical men in this study were judged as being less moral for sexting compared to women.
Although these results may be discouraging, the silver lining is that they do provide clear paths forward so that we may create new avenues for future research as well as providing much needed updates to our sexual education programming module on sexting, which often fails to feature or discuss sexting in any detail (Jorgenson, Weckesser, Turner, & Wade, 2018). Additionally, the results can help support counselors and practitioners in targeting therapies and aims of treatment to improve individual and sexual functioning for those affected by negative perceptions of their sexting behavior.
Brand, A. N. (2015). From locked doors to locked screens: The implications of sexting as a gendered performance (master’s thesis). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 1591469)
Drouin, M., Coupe, M., & Temple, J. (2017). Is sexting good for your relationship? It depends … Computers in Human Behavior, 75, 749-756.
Foubert, J. D., Tatum, J. L., & Godin, E. E. (2010). First-year male students’ perceptions of a rape prevention program 7 months after their participation: Attitude and behavior changes. Journal of College Student Development, 51, 707-715.
Jorgenson, C. R., Weckesser, A., Turner, J., & Wade, A. (2018). Young people’s views on sexting education and support needs: Findings and recommendations from a UK-based study. Sex Education.
Papp, L. J., Hagerman, C., Gnoleba, M. A., Erchull, M. J., Liss, M., Miles-McLean, H., & Robertson, C.M. (2015). Exploring perceptions of slut-shaming on Facebook: Evidence for a reverse sexual double standard. Gender Issues, 32, 57-76.
Ringrose, J., Harvey, L., Gill, R., & Livingstone, S. (2013). Teen girls, sexual double standards and ‘sexting’: Gendered value in digital image exchange. Feminist Theory, 14, 305-323.
Tourangeau, R., & Yan, T. (2007). Sensitive questions in surveys. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 859-883.