While you may consider sexting to be the new ‘first base’, researchers admit that there is no consensus on what it means, and little research to back up its relation to sexual activity. Further, there are significant shortcomings in the existing research on sexting as well.
“There’s a lot of work being done on the phenomenon of sexting and how it may influence sexual behaviour, but the work is being done in a wide variety of populations by researchers from different backgrounds,” said lead author Kami Kosenko from the North Carolina State University. “We wanted to analyse this broad body of work to see what, if anything, can be gleaned from all of these studies,” she added.
The researchers found 234 journal articles that looked at sexting, but then removed studies that didn’t look at the relationship between sexting and behaviour, as well as any studies that didn’t include clearly defined quantitative measures of sexting or sexual behaviour. Ultimately, this process winnowed it down to 15 studies that looked at whether there was any link between sexting and sexual activity, unprotected sex, and/or the number of sex partners one has.
In the paper published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, the researchers found that there was a weak statistical relationship between sexting and all of those categories – and that was when looking solely at correlation. It was impossible to tell if sexting actually influenced behaviour at all. In fact, there’s not even an agreed-upon definition for sexting. Does sexting consist only of sexually-oriented text messages? Does it include photos? Videos? Definitions varied widely from paper to paper.
“There are two take-home messages here,” said co-author Andrew Binder. “First is that sexting does not appear to pose a public health threat to America’s youth – so don’t panic. Second, if this is something we want to study, we need to design better studies. For example, the field needs a common, clear definition of what we mean by sexting, as well as more robust survey questions and methods.”