Everyone around you is sexting: Is it helping us hold commitment at arm's length?

It's great when you're lonely or bored, but do pseudo-sexual experiences keep us from meaningful engagement?

By Erin Coulehan

Published August 10, 2015 5:38PM (EDT)

    (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-163108p1.html'>Ammentorp Photography</a> via <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/'>Shutterstock</a>)
(Ammentorp Photography via Shutterstock)

My parents made sure I knew the basics of dating when I started high school. At the time it meant chewing with my mouth closed, letting him open doors for me and not settling for a date who didn’t come to the door to pick me up. This was also right around the time camera phones hit the scene, all at once simplifying and overcomplicating courtship. I never really “learned” the dos and don’ts of flirting via texts, which is weird because today it’s common knowledge. In fact, it’s not even very special.

At the American Psychological Association’s convention in Toronto this past weekend, researchers presented data on sexting that suggests digital sexual exchanges are more common than not.

Emily Stasko, MS, MPH, of Drexel University and co-author Pamela Geller, PhD, associate professor of psychology, OB-GYN and public health at Drexel University surveyed 870 participants about sexting practices and found that eight out of ten had participated in sexting within the last year.

“Given the possible implications, both positive and negative, for sexual health, it is important to continue investigating the role sexting plays in current romantic and sexual relationships,” said Stasko.

The researchers found greater levels of sexual satisfaction reported amongst those who sext more frequently, which isn’t surprising in the slightest. But what’s interesting is the survey reported greater levels of relationship for satisfaction except for those who identified as “very committed,” meaning we don’t need to sext to be happy in relationships.

I understand the appeal of sexting. At the very least it’s entertaining, a naughty pick me up during a dull train ride. At its best it encourages open sexual communication and can improve confidence, which leads to better sex IRL.

But does it mean anything? Should it?

This week’s New York Times Modern Love essay examines sexual digital communication like texting. Author Emily Court writes, “Having the last word was once a sign of one’s wit and smarts. It meant that your comment had gravitas and staying power. But today, having the last word is the ultimate in weakness: It means being the person who doesn’t merit an answer.”

It’s easy to ignore a text — part of the appeal of this form of communication is how easily dismissible it is, and I worry this behavior transfers to relationships as technology has creeped its way into our love lives. I mean, it’s already infiltrated our love songs.

I used to shudder with delight at the thought of letters exchanged between lovers, songs inspired by muses -- the giddy excitement of it all. Recently I’ve noticed a new thematic trend — lamenting not the un-smooth course to true love, but the troubles brought on by technology.

“Emoticons” by British indie rock trio The Wombats instantly attracted me because it sounds sexy ), low-building and sensual, like a deep exhale from a cigarette or slow sip of whiskey. It’s attention-grabbing, but the lyrics reveal a poignancy that led me to playing the song on repeat.

“We crave the fiction when we need the truth,” they sing before crooning, “And all these emoticons, try to make it better but only make it worse.” The subject of the song isn’t a lover, but the fact that intentions are lost in translation and rendered meaningless.

The technology that’s available to us blurs the lines of reality and expectation by imitating intimacy and reducing vulnerability. If we get lonely or bored, it’s easy to have a pseudo-sexual experience without risking real life engagement, but doesn’t mean the message will be received.

Erin Coulehan

Erin Coulehan is a freelance journalist with work in Rolling Stone, Elle, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @miss_coulehan

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Love Relationships Sex Sexting The Wombats