While those who navigate a Snapchat minefield of "You up?" messages on a daily basis have already been formulating their own theories about what type of person is going to want nudes, sexting is a relatively new subject for social scientists.
As sexting becomes more ubiquitous, the research is only going to increase. In a study published in The Journal of Sex Research titled "Relational Anxiety and Sexting," researchers attempted to find out what type of psychological factors make people sext; their findings have shown correlations between personality types and their sexting tendencies.
Read more: Sexting Doesn't Count as Cheating
The study focused on the link between sexting and relational anxiety, the theory being that a person's early relationships, usually with parents, sets up a working model for all other relationships.
For adults, relational anxiety is viewed through two dimensions: attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance. High attachment anxiety is characterized by an intense need to be close emotionally with one's partner. People with this usually want to be closer to their partner than their partner wants to be towards them, or they feel that way. With attachment avoidance, it's exactly the opposite—they want to avoid close relationships, as they're not comfortable depending on other people nor are they comfortable having other people depend on them.
The study took a sample of 459 "unmarried heterosexual undergraduate students" from across the country and evaluated them on their sexting habits as well as relationship attitudes and habits. They were asked about frequency of sexting, dating anxiety, fear of being single, and level of commitments needed with partners before sending a sext.
The study found that "low attachment avoidance, greater fear of negative evaluation, and greater social distress when dating were associated with sexting behaviors." In other words, people who have anxiety about dating are going to sext.
However, in contrast to past studies and the researchers' own predictions, the study found "low levels of attachment avoidance related to engagement in sexting." People who are not attachment avoidant—those who want to be with their partners and worry about their partner staying with them—weren't expected to be sending sexts, but the study's findings contradicted that prediction.
People who really care about the way that their partners are thinking of them might be more inclined to be sexting.
Michelle Drouin of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, one of the researchers behind the study, explained to Broadly that these disparate findings can be seen as a new way to view sexting. "People who really care about the way that their partners are thinking of them, who really want their partners to think of them in a positive way, might be more inclined to be sexting," she said.
Whether one is trying to find keep an old partner or cozy up into the good graces of a potential one, sexting is a form of a "hyperactivating strategy used by people who are anxious in order to elicit responses from their partners," said Drouin.
While the study is exciting, it's important to note its relatively small sample size: 459 heterosexual university students between the ages of 18 and 25. The study's range means that a whole Grindr-verse of people aren't incorporated, let alone a proportional representation of sexters as a whole. Additionally, studies have approached sexting in a piecemeal way, ignoring other key facets—while anxiety is a small component of sexting, there's a lot more to learn.
From its findings, the study predicted a possible cultural shift in regards to sexting, stating, "It could be that sexting has become more acceptable or that previous experience with sexting has resulted in few personal consequences, making [it] seem less risky. Past experience with sexting might have yielded positive relational outcomes (e.g., intimacy or desired sexual activity)."
Previous studies have tended to view sexting as a new and scary technological advancement. This fear has resulted in research focused on the associated risks of sexting, such as substance abuse and risky sexual behavior. Yet, this positive cultural shift could seep into how researchers view their work. These new attitudes "[are] changing the discourse. It's changing the way researchers are approaching the study," said Drouin.
One recent study found little association between sexting and sexual aggression, coercion, threats, and retribution, concluding that "sexting may not be a cause for concern." Now that sexting possibly isn't a concern, hopefully next researchers will work on finding the formula for crafting the perfect meta-smart-and-arty-yet-still-hot message.