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Sexting by Adults Is Greater Than Teens



The term “Sexting” became a household word in 2011 when then New York Congressman Anthony Weiner sent explicit photos of himself to several woman. Before 2011, the focus was mostly on the concerns and risks involved for teens who were sexting. The Anthony Weiner incident served to raise public awareness that adults were just as likely to send “sexts,” and it appears that adult sexting levels are greater than teens.

Sexting is the sending and receiving of suggestive or provocative photos, texts and videos usually through the cell phone. A 2013 Harris Interactive Poll found that 20 percent of Americans sext on their smartphones. This poll found that the adults engaging in sexting are moms and dads, over the age of 55, with 11 percent recording explicit videos on their phones. The Pew Research Center conducted polls in 2010, 2012 and 2014. In the 2010 and 2012 polls the research reflected that in the over 18 demographic, 15 percent had received a sext message and six percent had sent a nude or partially image nude of themselves to someone else. Between 30 and 49 years, 17 percent had received a sext message. These percentages did not change in the years between the 2010 and 2012 polls. However, the 2014 poll found that sexting by adults is increasing and is greater than the percentages of teens who sext.

In the 2014 poll, nine percent of adults had sent a photo while 21 percent had received one. For those individuals who do most of their internet browsing, research and media contacts on their cell phones, the increases were even greater, with 35 percent having received a sext, and 14 percent have sent one.

Why do adults sext? Who are these adults? What determines if an adult will engage in sexting behavior? The younger the adult the greater the sexting, as adults aged 18-24 sext a staggering 44 percent. For those aged 25 to 35, the percentage of sexting drops to 22 percent. Those adults who are sexting appear to be doing so to exchange photos with their romantic partners, sharing images with others outside their romantic relationship and those who are dating but hope to develop a relationship.

SextingFor adults the sexting can be helpful or hurtful to relationships. It can spice up the romantic life when couples sext each other, as it acts like foreplay. It can help build or develop intimacy. Sexting allows a differ form of expression many find freeing. Negatively it can feel like betrayal or infidelity when the sexting occurs outside the committed partners. Sexts can be used to harass or intimidate, and if accidentally sent to individuals not intended as recipients, they could cause embarrassment, ridicule and scandal. As with any medium of expression and communication, how it is used determines whether it ultimately is positive or negative.

Those who are dating are more likely to sext with 42 percent receiving a sext and 23 percent having sent one. Those in a committed relationship are less likely to sext the longer the relationship: 32 percent sext if the relationship is less than 10 years, only six percent if over 10 years. For teens, the percentages have not really changed in the past four years, with 15 percent of teens receiving a sext, and only 8 percent sending one. Therefore, adults are overachieving in this category, as they are sexting in greater percentages than their younger teens counterparts.

By Brendie Kelly

The Harris Poll
Pew Center Research Poll
Pew Research Center