The XX Factor

Sexting Is a Form of Affirmative Consent, and Americans Love It

Sexting in progress


In recent years there’s been a drumbeat of sensationalist stories about the supposed dangers of sexting, mostly because people who use new tech for sexual gratification are a reliable impetus for moral panics. But two researchers at Drexel University are pushing back. A paper presented last weekend at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention suggests not only that most adults engage in sexting, but that it can actually improve their relationships. 

In their sample survey of 870 Americans ages 18–82, Emily Stasko and Pamela Geller found that nearly 9 in 10 subjects had sexted before, and 82 percent had done it in the past year. Overall, they found a “robust relationship between sexting and sexual satisfaction.” For people who weren’t in “very committed” relationships, sexting also had a relationship satisfaction bump. For people who were already in committed relationships, there was no bump, but no adverse effects, either.


These results don’t just tell us about how normal and everyday sexting is. They also tell us a lot about the debate over affirmative consent. 

Feminists have long argued that affirmative consent isn’t really a new concept, but rather a way of codifying how most people have sex already: by constantly communicating, verbally and nonverbally, their interest in what’s happening. Anti-feminists, however, argue that the ongoing communication model is a boner-killer and too much to ask of ordinary people.

“Reluctance to engage in frank sexual communication is treated [by feminists] solely as a puritanical hang-up rather than a valid desire to preserve some spontaneity or dignity,” argued Cathy Young in the Washington Post, where she also sneered at the idea that consensual sex should be “the result of a rational, fully autonomous choice.” 

But this study supports what feminists have been saying. Constant communication during sexual activity isn’t just normal; it’s what most people actively seek out. They look for reasons to do it just for the hell of it, even when they can’t have actual sex—sexting is people affirmatively consenting all over the place! Far from being a drag, affirmative consent is exciting. There’s no reason not to hold it up as a standard.