In the midst of a surge in research and media reporting on the potential negative consequences of "sexting," a University of Arizona researcher is investigating what motivates young people to send sexually explicit images via text message.
The explanation is not as straightforward as one might think, especially when it comes to young women, says Morgan Johnstonbaugh, a PhD student in UA sociology who presented his research at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York over the weekend.
In an online survey, Johnstonbaugh asked more than 1,000 university students – aged 20 on average – from seven US universities to describe the last time they sent a naked or half-naked photo of themselves to another person electronically. They were then asked why they shared the photo. Presented with a list of 23 possible reasons, they were able to control as many or as few as they wanted.
In her analysis of the responses, Johnstonbaugh found that the probability was four times higher for women than men, to say that they sent sexually explicit pictures of themselves to prevent the recipient from losing interest or preventing the recipient from viewing pictures of others. . . This may alert to a persistent gender double standard that could be disrespectful to women, Johnstonbaugh said.
The gender double standard is this idea perpetuated in society that men and women have different kinds of sexuality – that men have uncontrollable, voracious desires, while women are able to make moral decisions and act as gatekeepers of sexual activity. With this idea in mind, women may feel pressured to share pictures with their girlfriends to keep them interested or to whet their appetite. "
Morgan Johnstonbaugh, Doctoral Student of Sociology, University of Arizona
However, Johnstonbaugh discovered that the chances are also four times higher for women than men for saying they sent sexually explicit images as a way to feel empowered, and women were twice as likely for men to say that they sent such pictures to increase their power. confidence.
"Women may find themselves sexting to be able to really because you can create a space where you feel safe expressing your sexuality and exploring your body," she said.
It was not uncommon for female respondents to choose both authoritative and objectionable reasons for sexting, showing just how complex their motivations can be, Johnstonbaugh said.
"The fact that women are more likely to feel powerless and irresponsible – that they choose both of these options when they think about the same event – highlights the fact that women have more benefit from potentially beneficial interaction, but they also have more to do. lose, "Johnstonbaugh said.
Further analysis is needed to better understand other potential motivations for sexting, as well as what motives might be more common for men, Johnstonbaugh said.
She said she hopes her findings will help to provide a more nuanced understanding of sexting for scholars, educators and policymakers interested in reducing harmful sexting practices.
"In this research, my goal was to disrupt the pressures that young people are experiencing, and to better understand why they are sending these pictures and what potential benefits they could hope for," she said. "This gives us a bit more perspective."
Johnstonbaugh is a sixth-year student at the UA School of Sociology, part of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. She studies gender and gender, sexuality, and digital technologies under associate sociology professor Louise Roth. The research that Johnstonbaugh presented at the ASA Annual Meeting will contribute to her dissertation on sexting practices among university students.