Study: More people sext than use Instagram

There may just be hope for humanity yet: According to a new study out today from the Pew Internet Institute, that scourge we call sexting is way up among adult cellphone-owners — but the practice of forwarding sexts remains unchanged.

In other words, proportionally more people are playing nicely with their nudes, despite the horror stories that seem to emerge from America’s high schools every day.

In fact, much of the Pew Report reads like a love letter to technology. Most Internet users don’t think the Internet has affected their relationships, and those who do overwhelmingly think that the impact has been positive. Only a quarter of adults in relationships say their partner has been distracted by their cellphone. And among 18- to 29-year-olds, the most tech-savvy group, a full 41 percent feel closer to their partner because they keep in touch online.


All this runs counter to the usual narrative we get on technology and relationships, which typically holds that our cellphones and computer screens are sterilizing filters that push us all apart. (There was, in fact, an essay on this very subject in the New York Times over the weekend.) Pew’s results don’t exactly suggest that the opposite is true —  20 percent of respondents did still say technology had a negative impact — but they do seem to say that, at the very least, our relationships with both our tech and each other are vastly more complicated than we may have thought.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of evidence that even our more reviled tech habits are becoming mainstream. On the sext score, 20 percent of adult cellphone users have received an explicit photo or video message — a considerable number, when you account for the fact that only 81 percent of cell-phone users send messages of any kind. And while single people sext more than people in relationships, 25 percent to 18 percent, the spread isn’t so dramatic as to relegate sexting to the realm of weird things that tech-savvy kids do. More cellphone users have received a sext than have used Instagram, per an October Pew poll — a pretty clear indication that sexting is neither promiscuous nor purely generational, but increasingly mainstream.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? It likely depends whom you ask. But like most intersections between tech and romance, it’s probably way too complex to rule either way.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Caitlin Dewey | February 11