Let's talk about sexting, baby.
Earlier this week, the Pew Research Center released a report, "Couples, the Internet, and Social Media," which focused on how Americans in committed relationships use digital technology. It was the latter of two reports -- a couple, you might say -- about “the impact of the internet, social media and mobile phones on online dating and romantic relationships." (Here's the first, released in October.)
The most fun section of the latest report is about sexting. (It’s also the only portion that includes singles -- you know, those people getting drunk and binge-watching "House of Cards" today.) The broad notion: “Some 9% of cell phone owners have sent a suggestive picture or video, while 20% have received one. These are both statistically significant increases from the last time we asked about these behaviors in 2012 when 6% of cell owners had sent a sext and 15% had received one. Just 3% of cell owners have forwarded a sext, a figure that is unchanged from the percentage who did so in 2012.”
Evidence that forwarding did not increase even as sexting did seems promising. Slate's Amanda Hess asked: "Could we be entering an era where using technology for titillation doesn’t mean opening ourselves up to exploitation?” One hopes so, but I wouldn't be too sure -- especially if you're eyeing a career in politics. (A joyous Feb. 14 to you too, Mr. Weiner.)
I have to admit, though, I'm more intrigued by the gap between the percentage of people who sent sexts, and the percentages who received or forwarded them. Because, you know, it's kind of hard to receive a sext if no one sends it. Perhaps the Pew sample somehow undercounted the sext-senders in our midst. Sure. Perhaps certain individuals send sexts to a lot of different people -- sext-spamming if you will. Ew. Or perhaps people aren't so keen to admit that they send provocative images and videos of themselves. This is one instance in which it’s more socially acceptable to receive than to give. (Likewise, that Playboy subscription just appeared in your mailbox.)
Age matters: Among 18- to 24-year-old cellphone owners -- the group that showed the biggest increase in sexting since 2012 -- 44 percent said they receive sexts, while only 15 percent said they send them. Meanwhile, among 25- to 34 -year-olds, 34 percent said they receive sexts and 22 percent -- one in five -- said they send them.
Cell-phone usage among young romantics isn't all lewd -- or very romantic. The report explains that: “42% of cell-owning 18-29 year olds in serious relationships say their partner has been distracted by their mobile phone while they were together." Eighteen percent of 18- to 29-year-olds who are online and in committed relationships suggested they had "had an argument with their partner about the amount of time one of them was spending online." (Of course, based on my personal survey, it’s necessary to send a few more tweets before going to bed. And yes, the phone needs to sleep next to its owner because the owner will want to check Instagram upon waking in the morning.)
Older people have their quirks too. The reports notes, "The likelihood of sharing an email account becomes steadily greater with age -- just 12% of married or committed adults ages 18-29 share an email address with their partner, compared with 47% among adults ages 65 and older." The longer a couple has been together the more common a joint e-mail address is. Pew suggests that, "Those who were already together as a couple at the advent of a new platform or technology were a bit more likely to jump on together." Also, having that email@example.com account makes it awfully easy to remember where to send those racy photos.
(Zara Kessler is an editor with Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter @ZaraKessler.)
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