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Sexting and the Application of the Social Exchange Theory



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Sexting, the action of sending or receiving sexually explicit text, photographs, or video messages through cell phones or other electronic devices (Renfrow & Rollo, 2014), has become a frequently used means of sexual communication and exploration among adolescent/young adults (Walrave et al., 2015). To date, media has emphasized the risk of possible social and psychological consequences (Zhang, 2010), while limiting the discussion of possible benefits of sexting such as providing a safe method of expressing sexuality, with no risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) (Lee et al., 2013; Shafron-Perez, 2009). The current study applied the social exchange theory (SET), a social-psychological perspective that suggests all social interactions between individuals occur through negotiations of rewards and costs (Laursen & Jensen-Campbell, 1999; Thibaut & Kelley, 1965), to reports of sexting behaviours of young adults. Participants completed a series of measures that tapped into the constructs of sexting attitudes and behaviours, sexual and relationship satisfaction, sexual self-esteem, attachment, and patterns of sexual self-disclosure. It was predicted that perceived rewards minus costs of sexting with a current partner, sexting frequency, and sexual self-esteem would predict sexual self- disclosure (Hypothesis 2.b). It was also predicted that SET would provide a suitable framework for examining young adults’ relationship and sexual satisfaction, in that reports of sexual self- disclosure during sexting would predict relationship and sexual satisfaction (Hypotheses 3.a and 3.b). A linear regression analysis provided support for Hypothesis 2.b, suggesting that SET provides a suitable framework for examining young adults’ perceptions of rewards and costs associated with sexual self-disclosure during sexting. In addition, Hypotheses 3.b was also supported, where sexual self-disclosure predicted sexual satisfaction. However, Hypothesis 3.a was not supported, and suggested that sexting behaviours, perceptions of sexting, or sexual self- disclosure during sexting do not predict relationship satisfaction. Therefore, partial support for the application of SET in understanding how sexting may be related to relationship and sexual satisfaction in young adults was found. Future research is needed to examine sexting and sexual satisfaction with all aspects of SET, which would extend the understanding of the relationship of rewards and costs of sexting and sexual satisfaction.



Sexting, Sexual Communication, Social Exchange Theory, Dyadic Couples



Master of Arts (M.A.)




Applied Social


Lawson, Karen


Cummings, Jordan;Downe, Pamela;Muri, Allison


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