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Faculty Sponsor

Michelle Drouin


Department of Psychology

University Affiliation

Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne


Text messaging has become almost ubiquitous in our society (Smith, 2011). Accordingly, researchers have become interested in the ways in which individuals use this medium to communicate in interpersonal relationships. Within romantic relationships, researchers have begun to examine sexting (transmission of sexual material via text message) and its prevalence and correlates within committed relationships (e.g., Drouin & Landgraff, 2012). One area of research that has received no empirical attention is coercive sexting, or engaging others in unwanted sexting. This is an important line of inquiry, as sexting may provide a potential vehicle for covictimization (i.e., both physical and sexual victimization during the same time period; Smith, White, & Holland, 2003).

In this study, we examine the relationship between unwanted but consensual sexting and physical abuse in committed romantic relationships. Based on previous research on physical and sexual covictimization (e.g., Katz & May, 2008), we expect unwanted but consensual sexting to be positively related to physical abuse in committed romantic relationships. Undergraduate participants (105 women, and 81 men) completed an anonymous online survey in which they rated their frequencies of sexting, physical abuse, and consenting to unwanted sexual activities. They also completed the Experiences in Close Relationships survey. Descriptive and correlational analyses and linear regression analyses were used to examine the prevalence of these behaviors and relationships between variables.

Engaging in unwanted but consensual sexting with one’s committed relationship partner was fairly common (approximately 50% engaged in it), and it was significantly related to physical abuse by a romantic partner. Physical abuse was also related to being talked into sexting and masturbation in all relationship contexts; however, it was not related to being talked into kissing, sex, or other sexual behaviors. Meanwhile, in women, both physical abuse (b = .21, p = .05) and attachment anxiety (b = .19, p = .06) were unique predictors of frequency of unwanted but consensual sexting, whereas in men, only physical abuse was predictive of unwanted but consensual sexting (b = .29, p = .03).

Unwanted but consensual sexting, although fairly common, might provide a vehicle for physical and sexual covictimization in both men and women. Campaigns and interventions to curb sexting, especially among adolescents, might focus on the personal and relationship issues that lead to anxious attachment, physical abuse, and sexual coercion.


Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences

Sexting: A New Route to Sexual Coercion?

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