Victimization or Entertainment?: How Attachment and Rejection Sensitivity Relate to Sexting Experiences, Evaluations, and Victimization

Victimization or Entertainment?: How Attachment and Rejection Sensitivity Relate to Sexting Experiences, Evaluations, and Victimization

Alaina Brenick (University of Connecticut, USA), Kaitlin M. Flannery (University of Connecticut, USA) and Emily Rankin (Central Connecticut State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1856-3.ch013
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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, play in the relationship 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. 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 have been demonstrated to be associated with other types of relational victimization (e.g., Downey & Feldman, 1996; Drouin & Tobin, 2014), and which therefore might be linked to heightened vulnerability to the negative aspects of sexting, such as sexting victimization.

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