This gives new meaning to the term ‘fear boner.’
It’s normal to send naughty texts. Sure, it’s not something we talk about much. And sure, it’s unlikely that your illicit messages hold a candle to the erotic masterstrokes of sexting OG James Joyce. But the question isn’t who does it (a lot of us) or how it’s best done (carefully)?—?the question is why we do it in the first place.
Turns out, the answer might be less sexy than you think.
The immediate benefit of sexting is so obvious that studying the motivation behind the act seems almost foolish. (Hint: It makes you come.) But is the Big O really the reason most of us turn to text when we’re looking to get our rocks off?
According to a study published in The Journal of Sex Research, figuring out somebody’s personality type is a pretty foolproof way to predict their sexting habits.
The study posits that early childhood development has a lot to do with how often you shed your cyber pants later in life. Scientists call it “relational anxiety” here and “attachment theory” here, but it’s pretty much the same thesis: Your earliest relationships (typically parent-child) create a framework or rubric that you apply to all future relationships.
To understand the study’s findings, we need to learn two vocab words.
Attachment anxiety is when somebody craves a strong emotional bond with their partner. (This often ends up with an imbalance of emotional dependence, with the “anxious” partner feeling closer than the non-anxious one.) Think “500 Days of Summer.”
Attachment avoidance is the opposite. People with avoidance don’t need nobody and don’t want nobody to need them. Think “Good Will Hunting.”
CNN’s Rob Weisskirch explains the link between “attachment theory” and those two terms like this:
“If your caregiver was attuned to your needs and responsive, you will develop a secure attachment. That means you are comfortable with close relationships because your experience paid off?—?Mom or Dad was there when you were distressed or hungry or cold. From that experience, you learned that relationships are safe and reciprocal, and your attachment anxiety is low.”
And if, on the other hand, Mom or Dad wasn’t there? Well, that can lead to people overcompensating and being “needy” (anxiety) or overcompensating and being “aloof” (avoidance).
So, how does one actually study attachment theory as it relates to sexting? Well, apparently you round up 459 straight college kids and give them a questionnaire.
“The study evaluated students on their sexting habits as well as relationship attitudes and habits. They were asked about frequency of sexting, dating anxiety, fear of being single, and level of commitments needed with partners before sending a sext.”
The study discovered that participants with low attachment avoidance?—?or, in other words, high anxiety?—?were the most likely to sext. Because they wanted to be with their partner and were psychologically more invested than normal in whether their partner wanted to be with them, they used sexting as a method of seeking approval.
Michelle Drouin, a researcher involved in the study, explained the findings:
People who really care about the way that their partners are thinking of them, who really want their partners to think of them in a positive way, might be more inclined to be sexting. Sexting is a form of hyperactivating strategy used by people who are anxious in order to elicit responses from their partners.
In interviewing several people for this article, some respondents corroborated the study’s findings. For example, one young woman?—?let’s call her Melanie?—?told me: “I’d never sext someone I was just hooking up with. With my ex-boyfriend? Yes, we sexted. I sent pictures; he never did.”
I was familiar with Melanie and her ex-boyfriend. She was emotionally invested in that relationship and spoke often of getting married (despite the relationship’s relative youth). Eventually, there were revelations that the young man was less invested than Melanie, and they ended up breaking up. She was distraught.
Is this anecdotal evidence? Sure. But it aligns with what the study suggests: Mel’s attachment anxiety manifested in sexting with a boyfriend who didn’t reciprocate those sexts?—?and she said she’d never bother sexting someone who she was “just hooking up with.”
A second woman?—?we’ll call her Janine?—?is known for being sex-positive and is unafraid to wield her sexuality purely for pleasure. In other words, she’s great at having casual sex on her own terms.
When I asked about her sexting habits, she said that she never reciprocates texts when the male initiates. “Once in a while I’ll send an unsolicited nude to an ex or someone I’m hooking up with. Usually while I’m drunk and horny and just want that little ego stroke. Makes me feel sexy.” In other words, she bucks the trend?—?even though she could be described as attachment avoidant, she still uses sexting for little spikes of sexual gratification.
That science stuff is all well and good. But let’s be honest: Sometimes you want something just a little more interactive than whatever’s floating around in the spank bank. So you exchange a few naughty messages and voilà, pop goes the weasel.