New Study Says ‘Sexting’ Is Not About Sex — Here is Why that Matters for Parents & Teens


Around 1 in 7 teenagers confess to sexting. We know that sexting can be very detrimental for teenagers’ development, especially for girls, as recent research shows that teen girls who sext are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. In extreme cases, sexting can even lead to bullying and suicide. 

As much as parents want to stop teenagers from sexting, it’s a battle that many of us lose. But, now, results from a new study on why people choose to sext may help parents to better prepare teenagers to resist temptation and peer pressure to engage in this potentially dangerous activity.

We tend to think that people sext simply because they are ‘in the mood’ or because they want to engage in sexual activity. But, new research presented at the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality found that most people do not sext because they actually want sex as the end goal, but rather because they want an ego boost or because they want to feel closer to their partner.

In other words, teens aren’t just sexting because they want to hook up, but because they want to feel liked and admired by their girlfriends or boyfriends, and because they want to feel bonded with them.

This research is important because when we understand kids’ motivations, we can empower them to make better choices. It makes sense that in our Instagram-driven society, teens desire ‘likes’ and approval from their dates, and sending sexy photos seems like a simple way to get that attention and admiration. But, by teaching our teens self-worth and educating them on other ways that they can get those feelings of pride and self-confidence, we can help them avoid the temptation to sext.

In addition, parents need to do a better job of modeling intimacy and healthy relationships for their kids. (I discuss this more in-depth in my book “Talking to Your Kids about Sex: Turning the Talk into a Conversation for a Lifetime.”) 

As this study shows, kids sext because they want to feel connected to their boyfriends or girlfriends. They want to feel bonded and valued by their partners, and sadly, many teens (especially girls) see that they can only achieve this value via sexting and sexual favors. But, as parents, we can help curb this notion by showing our teens other ways to create emotional intimacy and deep bonds with others.

If we model emotional intimacy with our spouses in ways that don’t rely on pure sexual energy, but rather on respect, vulnerability, quality time, and open-heartedness, it will help our teens learn how to connect with others in ways that aren’t just physical.

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