New research suggests there’s much more to sexy messages than instant gratification.
If the latest reports coming out of New York are to be believed, Anthony Weiner, former congressman and one-time master of Twitter crotch shots, is making an unexpectedly strong case for the Big Apple’s mayorship. According to recent polls, the politician previously best known for popping up in women’s inboxes in various states of undress is now one of the electoral race’s Democratic frontrunners.
This has two major implications: First, New York could, in the not too distant future, join Toronto on the list of major municipalities being run by a guy who’s become an international joke. Secondly, the noble art of sexting will once again be slandered in the news.
Though Weiner’s exploits are a cautionary tale about the consequences of reckless sexting, his image rehabilitation comes at a time when growing numbers of sex and relationship researchers are starting to believe the practice might actually be a respectable activity for adults to engage in after all.
In the Journal of Adolescent Health, Deb Levine, founder of youth-sexuality website YTH.org, noted conflicting research on whether sexting leads to risk-taking among 18- to 24-year-olds, then asked, “Why are we even starting from a place that sharing sexy pictures might be linked to unhealthy behaviours in young adults?” Pointing out that people aged 18 to 29 are friskier than any other age group—they’re getting it on about 112 times a year, apparently—Levine suggested society should quit trying to shame young people for using technology to expand their sexual repertoire.
Much of the bad press surrounding sexting comes from parents and police fretting about the risks of teens unwittingly sending child porn to one another over the web. That hand-wringing can be legitimate—just last year, a Toronto teen was charged with blackmailing a young girl with pictures she had sent him—but that same sexting anxiety has led some to stigmatize what is likely a harmless, and maybe healthy, pursuit among consenting adults.
A recent study out of the University of Kentucky, published in the American Journal of Family Therapy, reports that sexting could actually be good for your relationship. Using an online questionnaire, a plucky band of researchers grilled social-networking users about their texting (and sexting) habits. Then, using a bunch of statistical techniques that I suspect were invented for loftier purposes than the analysis of naughty messages, they concluded that sexting and relationship satisfaction are indeed linked. It seems that the couple that sexts together, stays together.
The paper also suggests that sexting could be recommended as a clinical “intervention” for couples whose relationship needs a dose of intimacy. The sex scientists helpfully point out that you don’t need to send naked pictures to qualify as a sexter: Suggestive messages will work just as well.
Technology can lend a helping hand to the most run-of-the-mill relationship—cough, naked Skyping—but where sexting really has the potential to mix things up is among marginalized groups, or people with certain “special” interests.
Melissa Scheltgen, a social worker from Nova Scotia who spoke in June at a sexuality conference at Guelph University, thinks sexting might have revolutionary potential.
“It intrigues me, as a social worker, that sexting is changing the way we behave sexually,” she says. “We are no longer going on coffee dates—we’re meeting people online and, maybe, our whole sexual experience is online now. We may never have any intention of seeing them in person.”
Scheltgen studies interactions on sites like Roulettechat.com—not to be confused with Chatroulette.com—that allow users to send messages and images, or chat over webcam with each other, and says that a lot of what she terms “marginalized individuals” are using technology in really positive ways.
The list of users is a diverse one: transgender people; gay men; lesbian women; those with a kink or two; folks in wheelchairs; the elderly. Scheltgen says sexting, chatting, and swapping the odd naughty pic allows people to not only explore their sexuality but also to find other like-minded people. “Many people are using it just to have a social life,” she says.
That, Scheltgen feels, could heavily impact the future of sexy tech. “I think this movement will change the way people develop their sexuality. There’s going to be more openness to certain sexual preferences.”
Let’s just hope that Twitpics of congressional junk never become acceptable practice.