Unwanted Sexting Linked To Mental Distress

By Kelly Burch 04/26/19

A new study found that men had more adverse effects when they got unwanted sexts even though women receive more.

man sending an unwanted sext

Getting unwanted sexual pictures messaged over texts or dating apps has become so common that it’s joked about and laughed at, but new research shows that receiving unwanted “sexts” can contribute to depression and other mental health effects. 

The Australian study, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, found that engaging in coerced or non-consensual sexts contributed to youth ages 18-21 feeling worse. 

“Receiving unwanted sexts, or sexting under coercion, was associated with higher depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms, and lower self-esteem, and these two sexting experiences were independent predictors of psychological distress,” study authors wrote

Interestingly, the researchers found that men seemed to have more adverse effects when they got unwanted sexts, although females were more likely to receive unwanted messages. 

“The relationship between these sexting behaviors with poor mental health was moderated by gender, with poorer outcomes for males receiving unwanted sexts,” researchers wrote. “This is contrary to popular belief that females are more adversely impacted than males by sexting activity. However, it is important to note that both genders were adversely affected with regard to depression, anxiety, stress, and self-esteem when sending a sext under coercion.”

While previous studies have linked all sexting with poorer mental health outcomes, this study was careful to separate consensual sexual exchanges with unwanted or coerced ones. 

“Our results showed no association between receiving or sending sexts overall,” researchers wrote. 

Researchers said that their findings about the impact of sexting could have widespread implications. 

“When receiving or sending unwanted but consensual sexts, respondents reported higher depression, anxiety, and stress, and lower self-esteem,” researchers wrote. “Another significant finding was that receiving unwanted sexts and sending sexts under pressure were independent predictors of poorer mental health. This suggests that they affect mental health in unique ways, and that there is an additive impact for these two sexting phenomena on mental health.”

They said that unwanted sexting can be a risk factor for intimate violence under certain circumstances. 

“This finding is important as the nature of this sexting behavior has been likened to intimate partner violence,” they wrote.

“That is, the findings of our study may shed light on why some researchers conceptualize sexting as simply a normative sexual behavior, while others see it as a potential risk behavior, including for sexual violence. Indeed, our findings indicate that both can be true. Sexting behaviors can range from consensual sexting as a normative behavior exploring one's sexuality to non-consensual sexting which is associated with negative mental health outcomes and more closely resembles a form of intimate partner violence.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.