Sexting is a common practice, but new research suggests peoples' reasons for sending these messages vary and could have nothing to do with trying to have sex.
A new study, presented yesterday at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, looked at 160 people between the ages of 18 and 69 who were in relationships and asked them their personal motivations for sexting. 85 women and 75 men answered the survey and most were white and straight.
The researchers found that sexters could be grouped into three categories: people who sexted for fun that also often resulted in sex (58 people), people who sexted to feel more attached to their partner (54 people), and people who sexted in order to get positive body-image reinforcement or another non-sex reward(48 people).
About two-thirds of these people, those in the latter two categories, didn't sext with sex as their end goal, the researchers found.
People sext to get what they want, but that's not always sex
According to the researchers, the fact that people who sext can be grouped into specific motivation categories suggests people often view sexting as a tool not just for signaling an interest in sex, but also one for covertly communicating non-sexual relationship needs to partners. In the study, these needs included more attention, feelings of connection, or body-image support.
There were some caveats to the study. Since it relied on self-reports, it's possible participants lied or didn't accurately explain their sexting motivations. The participants were mainly straight and white people, so the study is also not representative of the general population.
The researchers suggested sex educators explain other ways partners who don't want to get sex out of sexting can best communicate their needs to their partners.