(Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)Receiving unsolicited photos, videos and messages is an unavoidable reality of online dating.
With more and more people turning to apps like Tinder and Bumble to find love, they’re also opening themselves up to digital communication that sometimes ends in a barrage of genital pics.
Some people are retaliating by sharing the photos on social media, like the woman who posted dick pics and explicit messages that she received through Tinder on Instagram, and subsequently had her account deleted.
The practice of sending photos of your downstairs area seems to be more popular among men and to test this theory, one woman conducted an experiment in which she sent a photo of a vagina to her matches on Bumble – most of whom were very appreciative of it.
But it’s not just men who send unsolicited messages; in January, we reported that one woman ‘sent 159,000 text messages to a man after he rejected her’.
Research has now revealed that this type of communication can have detrimental effects on people’s mental health.
The study, dubbed ‘Sexting and Psychological Distress: The Role of Unwanted and Coerced Sexts’, is the first of its kind to connect sexting to issues such as depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
Texting was not found to cause mental health issues, but sexting was a completely different ballgame. Interestingly, it revealed that men would be worse off and more prone to mental health issues in this scenario.
(Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)‘Our results showed no association between receiving or sending sexts overall,’ researchers at Deakin University in Australia, wrote in the abstract.
‘However, receiving unwanted sexts, or sexting under coercion, was associated with higher depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms, and lower self-esteem, and these two sexting experiences were independent predictors of psychological distress.
‘The relationship between these sexting behaviors with poor mental health was moderated by gender, with poorer outcomes for males receiving unwanted sexts.’
The team also reviewed literature that showcased sexting is ‘highly prevalent’ in young adults (48.56% for sending and 56.01% for receiving ‘image-based sexts’), as well as adolescents (11.96% for sending versus 1.85% for receiving).
Previous findings have presented mixed outcomes on links between sexting and mental health problems.
Researchers theorised that this is due to inconsistency in the willingness of the person to receive or send a text. In other words, human beings can be fickle and it’s hard to pinpoint what level of sexting they’re comfortable with, and if it’s fully consensual.
‘One potential explanation for the discrepancies in findings on sexting and mental health may be how willingly a person receives or sends the sext,’ researchers wrote.
‘In one study, 52.3 percent of young adults had consensually engaged in sexting behaviors, despite reporting not wanting to do so. Motivations for this behavior included flirtation, foreplay, to fulfill a partner’s needs, or for intimacy reasons.
‘Indeed, peer pressure seems to be an important reason for sexting, with another study reporting that 23 percent of teens felt pressured to sext, and 51 percent of teenage girls saying they felt pressure from a boy to send sexually explicit messages.’
The study also explores coercion into sending images and in this area figures showed similar results for both men and women, who reported similar levels of anxiety, depression and self-esteem concerns.
In addition, researchers revealed that people who coerce others into sending photos are at risk of expressing sexually violent behaviour (or already are).
‘That is, the findings of our study may shed light on why some researchers conceptualize sexting as simply a normative sexual behavior, while others see it as a potential risk behavior, including for sexual violence,’ they wrote.
‘Indeed, our findings indicate that both can be true.
‘Sexting behaviors can range from consensual sexting as a normative behavior exploring one’s sexuality to non-consensual sexting which is associated with negative mental health outcomes and more closely resembles a form of intimate partner violence.’
Forcing or coercing others into sending photos is damaging to both parties – especially the victim – and is not sexy, nor acceptable.
The easiest way to find out if someone wants to receive naked photos or overtly flirty messages is simply to ask them. It will help you avoid making others (or yourself) feel distressed.
Be polite when you’re online dating and remember that there’s a person on the other side of your text.
If in doubt, don’t send it.
Is it illegal to send unsolicited messages or genital photos?
It’s currently not illegal in the UK to send dick or vagina pics – so long as it is a photo of your own genitals – however one group of MPs is calling for all non-consenual image sending to become a criminal offence, so watch this space.
Upskirting (taking photos underneath someone’s skirt without their consent) and revenge porn (sharing a private sexual photo or video of someone else without their consent) are both illegal offences that can be reported to the police.
Online abuse or harassment such as coercive control, stalking or threats of violence is loosely defined within the law, but should also be reported and could lead to the offender being taken to court.
MORE: Couples who sleep in separate beds ‘have better sex’
MORE: You should have sex before bed for better sleep, says study
MORE: Women tell us all the worst ways they have been chatted up