Send Nudes? : Sexting Experiences and Victimization Relating to Attachment and Rejection Sensitivity – Incorporating Sexual Minority Perspectives

Send Nudes? : Sexting Experiences and Victimization Relating to Attachment and Rejection Sensitivity – Incorporating Sexual Minority Perspectives

Alaina Brenick (University of Connecticut, USA), Kaitlin M. Flannery (State University of New York College at Cortland, USA), Emily Karr (University of Connecticut, USA) and Daniell Carvalheiro (University of Connecticut, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1063-6.ch007

Abstract

As texting continues to serve as an increasingly common method of communication among emerging adults, increases in rates of sexting, or sending sexually explicit messages, pictures, or videos, have also been observed. While consensual sexting can facilitate intimacy in relationships, when used as a tool to victimize others, it has been shown to yield a range of negative outcomes: from embarrassment to severe depression and suicide. This chapter aims to review the existing literature on emerging adults' engagement in and evaluations of sexting, while also considering the risks associated with sexting victimization. The role that individual characteristics, such as attachment style and rejection sensitivity as well as demographic characteristics such as gender, sexual orientation, and relationship status, play in the relation between experiences with and evaluations of using sexting as a tool for victimization will also be explored.
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Introduction

As technology use increasingly dominates the social lives of emerging adults (EAs), intimate communication—and potentially victimization—between romantic partners is transforming. This shift is especially apparent in rates of sexting, or the sending or receiving of sexually suggestive written messages, pictures, or videos. Sexting has become an increasingly common relationship ritual in young adults’ romantic lives, with a conservative estimate of nearly 43% of youth between the ages of 18-24 years having sexted (Gordon-Messer, Bauermeister, Grodzinski, & Zimmerman, 2013). In another sample, 80.9% of 697 undergraduate participants reported having sent a sext at least once in their lifetime, and nearly half of the entire sample (48.5%) had sent a sext within the last 30 days (Hudson & Fetro, 2015). Given its ubiquity in emerging adulthood, it is essential to consider that although consensual sexting can facilitate intimacy in relationships (e.g., Burkett, 2015), when individuals are coerced into sexting or when sexting is used as a tool to victimize others, it can yield a range of negative outcomes from embarrassment to severe depression and suicide (Celizic, 2009; Judge, 2012). Nonetheless, little research has examined EAs’ actual engagement in and evaluations of sexting as they relate to individual characteristics that might be associated with heightened vulnerability to the potential negative outcomes of sexting. Even more, individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB), are largely absent from the literature on sexting, and are at an increased risk of victimization due to their marginalized status. Studies have found that individuals who identify as LGB participate in sexting more regularly than their heterosexual peers (Albury, 2014), yet they remain out of focus for most of the current studies. In an attempt to understand those individuals who might be most at risk, this chapter presents an original study that addresses this gap in the literature by assessing EAs’ engagement in and evaluations of sexting and sexting victimization, together with individual characteristics—insecure attachment and rejection sensitivity—that are associated with other types of relational victimization (e.g., Downey & Feldman, 1996; Drouin & Tobin, 2014), and sexual orientation, which has thus far been largely left out of the literature on sexting victimization, all of which might be linked to heightened vulnerability to the negative aspects of sexting, such as sexting victimization.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Avoidant Attachment: An insecure attachment style that is characterized by having an aversion to being dependent on another individual or having another individual dependent on you.

Sexting: Sending or receiving sexually suggestive text, picture, or video messages.

Anxious Attachment: An insecure attachment style that is characterized by having a deep desire for intimacy, while simultaneously fearing abandonment.

Evaluations of Sexting: The ways in which people judge and reason about the positive, negative, and neutral aspects of sexting behaviors.

Attachment: The lasting emotional and affectionate bond (either secure or insecure in nature) that we develop in childhood with our caregiver and that manifests through the lifespan with the most important people in our lives (e.g., romantic partners).

Sexting Victimization: Being harmed by sexting. Sexting victimization can occur in various ways, ranging from feelings of coercion and pressure to sext, to the threat or act of having a sext shared with others without the prior consent of the individual depicted.

Rejection Sensitivity: The tendency to expect or perceive others to act in ways that reject the individual.

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