It seems a universal fact: give people a way to take a photograph, and they’re going to take photos of themselves naked. Those photos are also likely to be sent to others, too.
One real question remains: why?
Now, a study from the University of Arizona has revealed a number of reasons for sending nudes, and some intriguing differences between the motivations of men and women.
UA sociology doctoral student Morgan Johnstonbaugh asked more than 1,000 college students from seven universities to talk about the last time they chose to send a nude or semi-nude photo of themselves to someone else. She then offered them a list of 23 possible reasons why they sent the photo, and let them check off as many of those reasons that fit.
The difference in reasons were noteworthy.
The most common reason for sending an explicit image seems obvious: women and men both sent them with the notion of turning on their recipient, with men doing that 73% of the time compared to women 67% of the time. Both men and women were equally interested in sending a photo simple because they were asked to, with 40% willing to pass a photo to an interested party who asked for one.
That said, women were four times more likely to send explicit images to others in the hope that the receiving party would not lose interest in them, or to stop them from looking at photos of people other than them.
“The sexual double standard is this idea that’s perpetuated in society that men and women have different types of sexuality – that men have uncontrollable, voracious desires, whereas women are capable of making moral decisions and acting as the gatekeepers to sexual activity,” Johnstonbaugh said. “With this idea in mind, women may feel pressured to share images with their boyfriends in order to keep them interested or to please their appetite.”
What’s more, for lesbian or bi women, the choice to share for empowerment and confidence were higher than with straight people. The latter were more likely to share images to satisfy requests or to hold another’s interest.
In opposition to this, women were also four times more likely to send such images as a way to feel empowered. Women were also twice as likely as men to send nude or semi-nude images to boost their confidence.
“Women might find sexting to be really empowering because you can create a space where you feel safe expressing your sexuality and exploring your body,” said Johnstonbaugh.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t unusual for women to choose both a positive, empowering reason as well as less empowering options.
“The fact that women are more likely to feel both empowered and disempowered – that they’re selecting both of these options when thinking about the same event – highlights the fact that women have more to gain from a potentially beneficial interaction, but they also have more to lose,” said Johnstonbaugh.