Send Nudes, but Not If You’re a Dude: Variations in Judgments of Individuals Engaged in Sexting

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.

Sext

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.

References

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.

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“I Always Feel like Somebody’s Watchin’ Me”: How Social Media Affects our Judgments of Masturbation

BY: Katherine Haus, B.A.

In days of yore, masturbation was thought to cause a broad range of illnesses and afflictions, both mental and physical (Madanikia, Bartholomew & Cytrynbaum, 2013). Popular religions, health practitioners and yarn spinners alike condemned the practice, but as the world continued to turn, researchers gradually found that it indicates normal sexual function, sexual health, and possesses benefits untold (Coleman, 2002). Modern research and medicine frequently confirm this to be true, and a large majority of adult men and women report masturbating (Coleman, 2002).

 
Despite these strides forward, many people report feeling guilt or shame from masturbation, and it is still highly stigmatized within our society. As such, there were no recent studies assessing judgment towards masturbation. In order to do so, myself and a faculty member at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) employed the use of hypothetical vignettes depicting either a man (Jeff) or a woman (Amy) engaging in masturbation (Haus & Thompson, 2018). A total of 525 participants (256 women, 269 men) were recruited to read one of these vignettes, and then complete a Sexuality Judgment Scale (SJS) indicating their perceptions of Jeff or Amy’s sexual history. Participant ratings on the SJS revealed that female participants rated Jeff higher on the SJS than Amy, an indication that men who engage in masturbation are seen as having more extensive sexual histories than women who masturbate. Interestingly, this same trend was not true for male participants.

 

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Although these results are surprising, it is possible that this judgment may be modeled by media portrayals of masturbation. As masturbation is considered to be an uncomfortable topic by parents, educators and researchers alike, the primary source of learning about masturbation comes from media sources (Kaestle & Allen, 2011). One of these sources is social media, where allegations of sexual misconduct among men in Hollywood are rampant amidst the wake of movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp.

 
These movements are driven by empathy, and are focused on women’s consequences as a result of men’s actions. Other social media campaigns are centered around solidarity among women with slogans like “women supporting women” or “girls supporting girls.” It is possible that the increase in camaraderie among women has also increased the connection that women feel as members of a group, causing them to rate the other members of their in-group with less severity.

 
Although these movements are promoting positive changes geared towards equalizing our society, it is important to recognize all areas of issue caused by misconduct in order to minimize stigma and negative sexual experiences held by both men and women in our society. So next time you find yourself questioning someone’s sexual behavior a little to intensely, just take a step back and think for a moment. Why the hate? Just masturbate.

References

Coleman, E. (2002). Masturbation as a means of achieving sexual health. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 14, 5-16.

 
Haus, K. R., & Thompson, A. E. (Under Review). Feelin’ Myself: An Examination of the Endorsement of the Sexual Double Standard and the Backlash Effect related to Masturbation.

 
Kaestle, C. E., & Allen, K. R. (2011). The role of masturbation in healthy sexual development: Perceptions of young adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 983-994.

 
Madanikia, Y., Bartholomew, K., & Cytrynbaum, J., B. (2013). Depiction of masturbation in North American movies. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 22, 106-115.