Are you worried about being too much, too soon? You’re not alone. A new study published in Computers in Human Behavior looks at when would be an appropriate time to start sexting a new romantic partner.
Sexting – which is the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos via text – has become increasingly common, particularly in teenagers. The authors of a new study, called Too much too soon?: Perceived appropriateness of sexting across stages of relationship development and attachment tendencies among emerging adults, wanted to understand the mechanics of sexting and the relationship stages in which it takes place.
“I have an academic interest in the process of romantic relationship development, and I was curious about how people engage in sexting in different stages of relationships,” lead researcher Chelsea Guest explained to PsyPost.
“Oftentimes, sexting is perceived to be a dangerous deviant behaviour, but I was interested in its role in the process of relationship development and how it is perceived as a relational practice,” Guest said.
Guest and co. then looked at distinct stages in a relationship and aimed to uncover in which stages sexting took place.
Turning to the five stages of relationships
The study revolved around Knapp’s relational development model, which gives relationships five distinct stages: initiating, experimenting, intensifying, integrating and bonding.
Where initiating is about making impressions, the experimenting stage is all about finding common interests. In the intensifying stage, relationships become less formal and are based on personal information, while integration is a deeper level of intimacy where people may fall in love. Finally, the bonding stage is where a person will recognize their relationship through a formal acknowledgement.
In the study, researchers asked 133 undergraduate students about their most recent sexting experience and their relationship to the person they were sexting. The participants were then shown five paragraphs, each of which corresponded to one of the five stages in Knapp’s relational development model.
After learning about the relationship stages, participants indicated what stage they were in when they began sexting their partner and evaluated whether or not their behaviour was “appropriate” at the time.
Sexting in the later stages of relationships
The findings showed that participants sent and received more sexts in the integrating and bonding stages than they did in the initiating and experimenting stages.
“Sexting happens less frequently in new relationships and happens more frequently in established relationships,” Guest added. “Sexting is also perceived to be the most appropriate in established relationships compared to newer relationships.”
Guest and her colleagues also found a negative relationship between the avoidant attachment style – where people find it difficult to look for comfort and support in intimate relationships – and sexting frequency. This means that people who sext more often are less likely to have an avoidant attachment style and vice versa.
“Finally, people who fear being close to others sext less than those who are comfortable in close relationships.”
It’s important to note that the research was conducted during the pandemic amidst social distancing mandates, which likely affected sexting frequency. Additionally, the study was conducted among emerging adults aged 18 to 24, so it may not be representative of teens or older adults.
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