SEXTING: A NEW LOVE CRISIS. Can “sexting” be more damaging than helpful to relationships? Rachael Tarfman-Perez explores this 21st-century form of foreplay
Sexting by definition is sending or receiving sexually explicit messages or photos by mobile phones or via social media platforms. This is a trend that has increased steadily through the years. In fact, 88 percent of adults have engaged in some kind of sexting within the context of a relationship according to a paper titled “Reframing Sexting as a Positive Relationship Behavior.”
Is sexting more common than we believe or are these correlations merely coincidences? Emily Stasko, at Drexel’s University in Philadelphia, surveyed 870 heterosexual individuals and found that increased amounts of sexting was associated with higher levels of sexual satisfaction.
These are just two studies, you might say, and might not accurately represent what happens in our population at large. Another way to look at this is that technology is something that most people concentrate on daily. People are very involved with social media on mobile phones, computers and other gadgets. Is there any reason to think that people are not using technology to enhance their present relationships? People all over the world have access to messaging services, social media, and video chatting. It is extremely easy to use any of these modalities in the context of a relationship.
How do people view sexting?
The problem is that not everyone defines sexting the same way. Is it the sending of sexually explicit or provocative messages? Is it primarily the sending of sexual images? Some people see it as one, the other or even as both. This has been unclear because there have been various opinions about the subject. Sexting may not be limited to just direct messaging, but could also include the use of Twitter, Facebook, Skype and Facetime as well as other social media platforms. This could also mean sending sexually explicit videos, thereby complicating matters even more.
Most people have really warmed up to the idea of sexting and, according to the previously cited research papers, a very high number of people have engaged (and continue to engage) in this behavior. These research studies and surveys have focused on how sexting can improve relationships and rekindle sex lives. However, there is a darker side as well. This article focuses on those individuals that use sexting as a way of seeking excitement, sex and/or attention outside of their present relationships. The lines are sometimes blurred with regards to virtual or Internet relationships, because they are not viewed as being “real.”
Is sexting with a third party while in a relationship considered cheating?
That is a good question. We already know that sexting or sending sexually provocative messages can really enhance a committed relationship. However, what happens when people send these types of messages outside of a committed relationship? How is sexting viewed among the general population?
A 2013 Huffington Post article which surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults found that 85 percent of women and 74 percent of men consider sexting a form of cheating. Sexting outside a relationship can be exciting especially for those individuals that are looking for “that extra something” in their lives. Perhaps these individuals love their spouses or partners but seem to have lost the passion or excitement in their relationship. Other individuals might be looking to find someone else online or in a virtual sense that they can flirt with in a setup that can still be considered “safe.” That could fall into the “grass is greener on the other side of the fence” scenario.
“85 percent of women and 74 percent of men consider sexting a form of cheating”
Other scenarios could include men or women that seem to feel as if they are invisible to their partners or spouses due to, for example, over-demanding careers and children. These individuals may find that through sexting with a third party that they can feel loved, desired and even sexy. It is through this media (and possibly other reasons) that people justify their actions and tell themselves that they are not cheating, because there is no physical relationship.
Is this behavior wrong? Some people may believe that, due to the virtual nature of sexting, it isn’t necessarily wrong due to the lack of physical contact. It may have started as something innocuous but then it shifted into interactions that are much more intimate.
However if a person is deleting texts, hiding cell phone bills or being secretive about this virtual relationship, then it might be that he/she has become more involved with someone other than a spouse or partner. If we are looking at the health of a marriage or relationship, any time someone else becomes involved, that health has now been compromised. We could also argue that the commitment toward the relationship or marriage has waned because of the third party that is now part of the equation.
Rachael Tarfman-Perez is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT) and has been in practice for six years in Costa Mesa, California.