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Computers in Human Behavior 31 (2014) 412418

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Unwanted but consensual sexting among young adults: Relations with

attachment and sexual motivations
Michelle Drouin , Elizabeth Tobin
Indiana UniversityPurdue University Fort Wayne, United States

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: A wide body of research has examined unwanted but consensual sex in a face-to-face context, focusing
Available online 8 December 2013 on intercourse, petting, kissing, and other sexual activity that people consent to even though they do not
want to. Recent research has shown many people engage in sexual interactions via computer-mediated
Keywords: mediums; yet, to date, there are no studies that have investigated whether unwanted but consensual sex-
Unwanted but consensual sex ual activity exists in these contexts. In this study, we examined the extent to which 93 women and 62
Sexting men had consented to unwanted sexting within committed relationships and the attachment character-
istics and motivations that are associated with this behavior. Approximately one half of the sample
(52.3%) had engaged in unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner, and most did so
for irtation, foreplay, to fulll a partners needs, or for intimacy. Among men, neither of the attachment
dimensions was related to unwanted but consensual sexting. However, among women, anxious attach-
ment was signicantly related to frequency of consenting to unwanted sexting, and consenting to avoid
an argument was a mediator in the relationship between anxious attachment and consenting to
unwanted sexting. These results are compared to previous work on unwanted but consensual sex, and
future directions are discussed.
2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction legal issues or cases involving minors who have sent or received
sexually-explicit images (e.g., Pike, 2010; Pilkington, 2009; Valen-
Computer-mediated communication (e.g., texting and social zuela, 2013).
networking) has become a popular means of interpersonal com- One type of sexting that has not had any empirical attention but
munication in the United States, especially among teens and young may have possible legal implications is compliant sexting behavior
adults (Lenhart, 2012; Lenhart, Ling, Campbell, & Purcell, 2010; or unwanted but consensual sexting, which can be dened as will-
Madden et al., 2013; Smith, 2011). Considering its prominent role ingly engaging in unwanted sexual behavior via sexually explicit
in interpersonal interactions, it is unsurprising that computer- text, pictures, or video. Analogous terms already exist for face-to-
mediated communication is also a vehicle for sexual interactions, face sexual behavior, and this topic has been explored for almost
usually in the form of sexually-explicit words, pictures, or videos. two decades in the sexual relationship literature (e.g., Gentzler &
Termed sexting, this phenomenon has gained the attention of Kerns, 2004; Impett & Peplau, 2002, 2003; Muehlenhard & Peter-
communication and relationship researchers, who have examined son, 2005; OSullivan & Allgeier, 1998; Peterson & Muehlenhard,
the prevalence of sexting among young adults as well as the psy- 2007; Vannier & OSullivan, 2010). As studies have shown that
chological and relationship characteristics that are associated with prevalence rates are fairly high for both engaging in unwanted sex-
this behavior (e.g., Associated Press & MTV, 2009; Drouin & Landg- ual activity (e.g., OSullivan & Allgeier, 1998; Sprecher, Hateld,
raff, 2012; Drouin, Vogel, Surbey, & Stills, 2013; Ferguson, 2011; Cortese, Potapova, & Levitskaya, 1994) and sexting (Associated
Gordon-Messer, Bauermeister, Grodzinski, & Zimmerman, 2012; Press & MTV, 2009; Drouin & Landgraff, 2012; Drouin et al.,
National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2013; Ferguson, 2011; Gordon-Messer et al., 2012; National Cam-
2008; Weisskirch & Delevi, 2011; Wysocki & Childers, 2011). Sex- paign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2008), it is likely
ting has also been the focus of media reports, usually highlighting that these compliant sexual behaviors have extended to the virtual
world. However, there are also differences between the face-to-
face and computer-mediated environments that may make it less
Corresponding author. Address: Department of Psychology, Indiana University or more likely for unwanted sexual activity to occur through com-
Purdue University Fort Wayne, United States. Tel.: +1 260 481 6398; fax: +1 260 481
puter-mediated communication (CMC). For example, there are
E-mail address: (M. Drouin).
risks in the transmission of sexually-explicit material because sex-

0747-5632/$ - see front matter 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
M. Drouin, E. Tobin / Computers in Human Behavior 31 (2014) 412418 413

ual words and images are sometimes forwarded (Associated Press consent to sex and women feeling pressure to abstain because of
& MTV, 2009; Drouin et al., 2013); therefore, those who do not societal norms and sex-role expectations. Thus, the ndings with
want to engage in sexting have an added incentive to abstain. regard to gender and frequency of unwanted but consensual sexual
Additionally, the CMC environment is more socially constrained activity are somewhat mixed; however, there are strong theoreti-
than the face-to-face environment (Guadagno & Cialsini, 2002), cal arguments supporting each of the ndings.
so those wishing to engage another in sexual behavior online can-
not use nonverbal cues or other types of social or personal cues to 1.2. Attachment style, sex motives, and sexual compliance
persuade their partner to engage. On the other hand, unlike face-
to-face sexual activity, CMC sexual activity could be entirely fabri- Although attachment research was originally focused on chil-
cated; therefore, those consenting to unwanted sexting may do so dren and the attachments they make with their caregivers (e.g.,
with little commitment or consequence. Considering these differ- Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978), researchers soon became
ences, it is important to examine the frequency of and motivations interested in attachment styles within adult relationships (e.g.,
for unwanted but consensual sexual activity via CMC Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991; Brennan, Clark, & Shaver, 1998;
environments. Hazan & Shaver, 1987; Mikulincer & Shaver, 2003, 2007). The pre-
Therefore, the goals of this study were to examine the preva- vailing model of adult attachment consists of two dimensions:
lence of unwanted but consensual sexting as well as the motiva- attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance (Brennan et al.,
tions for and attachment patterns associated with this behavior. 1998). Within romantic relationships, adults who are high in
Our study focused on young adults, because this has been the pri- attachment anxiety have an intense desire to be connected to their
mary sample utilized in past research on the topic, and relatively partners, and they fear that their partners might abandon them
high rates of sexting and unwanted sexual activity have been (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). In effort to keep their partners or draw
found within this age group. them nearer, they tend to use hyperactivating strategies to keep
their interest (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2003, 2007). Adults high in
1.1. Unwanted but consensual sexual activity avoidant attachment, on the other hand, are independent and
self-reliant with a fear of becoming too dependent or intimate with
According to Peterson and Muehlenhard (2007), the prevailing even close relationship partners (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). So that
model of sexual wanting polarizes sexual activity into two varie- they are not relied upon, those high in avoidant attachment use
ties: wanted, consensual sexual activity and unwanted, noncon- deactivating strategies, in attempt to distance themselves from
sensual sexual activity. However, this model confounds two their partners (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2003, 2007).
conceptswantedness and consentthat are actually distinct A number of researchers have examined the attachment charac-
(Muehlenhard & Peterson, 2005; Peterson & Muehlenhard, 2007). teristics that are associated with different types of sexual activity
According to these researchers, people also can and do engage in in relationships, and a subset of these researchers have focused
sexual activity that is nonconsensual but wanted, and more rele- specically on sexual compliance. With regard to sexual activity
vant to the current inquiry, sexual activity that is unwanted but generally, researchers have found that those high in attachment
consensual. anxiety tend to be motivated towards sex for emotional closeness
Research into the latter phenomenon has shown that engaging and intimacy; and those high in attachment avoidance tend to
in unwanted sexual activity is fairly common among young adults have more casual sex and do not have motivations for emotional
(OSullivan & Allgeier, 1998; Sprecher et al., 1994). As an example, closeness or intimacy (Davis, Shaver, & Vernon, 2004; Schachner
more than one third of the college students in committed relation- & Shaver, 2004). With regard to sexual compliance, researchers
ships in OSullivan and Allgeiers (1998) sample reported engaging have provided evidence that both attachment anxiety and attach-
in unwanted yet consensual sex at least once during a two-week ment avoidance are positively related to unwanted but consensual
time period. Additionally, in Sprecher et al.s (1994) cross-cultural sexual activity. Again, gender appears to play a role in these inter-
study, approximately one third to one half of nonvirgins in three actions (see Impett & Peplau, 2003, for review). For example, Gent-
different countries reported having engaged in unwanted but zler and Kerns (2004) found that among women, both anxious and
consensual sex (Japan, 27%; Russia, 34%; and the U.S. 47%). avoidant attachment were related to a greater number of un-
In terms of gender differences in this behavior, some studies wanted but consensual sexual experiences; however, among
have shown that signicantly more women than men engage in men, only avoidant attachment was related to a greater number
unwanted but consensual sexual activity. For example, in OSulli- of unwanted but consensual sexual experiences. Meanwhile, in
van and Allgeier (1998) 50% of women reported engaging in un- Impett and Peplaus (2002) sample of college women, only anxious
wanted but consensual sexual activity during the past two weeks attachment was related to consenting to unwanted sex in a hypo-
as opposed to only 26% of men. Meanwhile, 55% of the American thetical scenario.
women nonvirgins in Sprecher et al.s (1994) study reported hav- The relationship becomes even more complex when one consid-
ing ever consented to unwanted sex as opposed to 35% of the ers the motivations for engaging in unwanted but consensual sex.
American men. Researchers have suggested a number of reasons OSullivan and Allgeier (1998) found that people in general con-
why women would engage in unwanted but consensual sex more sented to unwanted sex to promote intimacy, satisfy their partners
often than men, including sexual passivity, a felt responsibility for needs, and to avoid tension. However, Muehlenhard and Cook
relationship maintenance, or perceptions that mens sexual urges (1988) found that men and women cited different motivations
are strong or uncontrollable, which makes refusal futile (Bay- for engaging in unwanted sex: women were more likely to consent
Cheng & Eliseo-Arras, 2008; Impett & Peplau, 2002, 2003). How- to unwanted sexual activity out of altruism (e.g., fullling partners
ever, there are also studies which have shown that men are just needs) and fears of the relationship ending, whereas men were
as likely to engage in unwanted sexual activity. For example, in more likely to consent for popularity or because of peer pressure.
Muehlenhard and Cooks (1988) college sample, the prevalence This pattern of results suggests that womens consent to unwanted
rates for unwanted intercourse or petting for men and women sex may relate more to attachment or relationship maintenance,
were relatively equivalent, and more men (62.7%) than women and mens consent may relate more to gender-role expectations.
(46.3%) reported engaging in unwanted intercourse only. Accord- In a study that examined how motivations relate to attachment
ing to Muehlenhard and Cook (1998), their ndings can be ac- style among women only, Impett and Peplau (2002) found that
counted for by the double standardmen feeling pressure to those high in anxious attachment were more likely to cite avoiding
414 M. Drouin, E. Tobin / Computers in Human Behavior 31 (2014) 412418

tension in the relationship and worry that their partners might sample (N = 186), only those who had ever been in a committed
leave them, whereas those high in avoidance attachment were relationship (i.e., either married or serious boyfriend/girlfriend)
more likely to consent to unwanted sex because it was just easier were included in this study. The average age of the participants
or to conform to an already established pattern of sexual activity. was 21.64 years (SD = 4.41). Participants were largely Caucasian
Although they examined both motivations and attachment pat- (77% White, Non-Hispanic; 8% Hispanic; 7% African American; 1%
terns, Impett and Peplau (2002) did not examine whether any of Asian; and 6% Biracial or other ethnicity) and unmarried (4% mar-
these motivations were mediators between attachment patterns ried, 2% divorced or separated). They were mostly freshmen (58%
and womens willingness to engage in unwanted but consensual freshmen, 26% sophomores, 12% juniors, and 3% seniors) and re-
activity. Instead, they focused on perceived commitment discrep- ported various major elds of study (more than 50 different majors
ancy as a mediator, which was dened as the difference between were represented). For those who indicated they were in a rela-
their own commitment and their perceived commitment level of tionship at the time of the study (n = 103), 97% indicated that the
their partner (Impett & Peplau, 2002), and found that perceived relationship was heterosexual.
commitment discrepancy did mediate this relationship. However,
it is also possible that these motivations for unwanted sex could
be full or partial mediators in the relationship between attachment 2.2. Procedure
and engaging in unwanted but consensual sex.
Participants were recruited from introductory psychology clas-
ses in summer and fall, 2012 and received a research credit for par-
1.3. The current study
ticipation. All participants completed online consent forms and
were then given access to an online anonymous survey.
Unwanted but consensual sex has been studied extensively in
the research literature; however, to date, there has been no empir-
ical research examining whether compliant sexual behaviors exist 2.3. Measures
via computer-mediated mediums. In this study, we had three main
research questions with regard to this proposed phenomenon. The survey included demographic questions as well as ques-
First, we wanted to determine to what extent unwanted but con- tions about the frequency with which they had been pressured
sensual sexting exists within the context of young adult relation- by committed partners to engage in sexting, their motivations for
ships and whether the frequency of this behavior varies by engaging in sexting with committed partners when they did not
gender. Based on previous research on unwanted sexual activity want to, and their attachment styles, as described below.
and sexting, we expected that many young adults will have en-
gaged in this behavior, and that it would be more frequent among
women than men. Although some research has shown that men 2.3.1. Unwanted but consensual sexting
are more or equally likely to engage in unwanted sexual behavior Participants were rst asked if they had ever had a committed
(e.g., Muehlenhard & Cook, 1988), most of the research in this area relationship. For those that indicated that they had, they were di-
has shown that American women are more likely to be sexually rected to the following question: How often have you consented
compliant (OSullivan & Allgeier, 1998; Sprecher et al., 1994). Sec- to sexting (sending sexually explicit text, picture, or video mes-
ond, we wanted to examine whether the attachment variables and sages) with a committed relationship partner when you actually
motivations that are related to consenting in face-to-face un- did not want to sext? Participants responded on a 16 Likert scale
wanted sexual activity (e.g., Impett & Peplau, 2002; Muehlenhard (1 = not at all, 6 = very frequently).
& Cook, 1988; OSullivan & Allgeier, 1998) are also related to un-
wanted but consensual sexting. As Drouin and Landgraff (2012)
and Weisskirch and Delevi (2011) found that attachment variables 2.3.2. Motivations for unwanted but consensual sexting
are related to sexting generally, we expected attachment charac- Participants were asked about their motivations for engaging in
teristics to also be related to unwanted but consensual sexting. unwanted sexting with a committed partner. They were given a list
Although the literature on attachment and unwanted but consen- of 10 motivations, which was derived partially from the motiva-
sual sex presents mixed ndings on this issue, both Gentzler and tions for unwanted sex listed in Impett and Peplau (2002) and
Kerns (2004) and Impett and Peplau (2002) found that anxious OSullivan and Allgeier (1998) and were asked to indicate how of-
attachment was related to unwanted but consensual sex among ten they consented to unwanted sexting with a committed partner
women; therefore, we expected this same relationship in the con- on a 16 Likert scale (1 = never, 6 = very frequently). This list in-
text of unwanted but consensual sexting. Finally, we wanted to cluded motivations associated with attachment variables such as
determine whether motivations for engaging in unwanted sex- I wanted intimacy and I wanted to avoid an argument as well
tingspecically, sexting to avoid an argumentwould be a medi- as motivations that are associated to risk-taking behaviors such as
ator in the relationship between attachment patterns and I was drinking and I was taking drugs. The full list of motiva-
unwanted but consensual sexting. We expected that engaging in tions is displayed in Table 2.
unwanted sex to avoid an argument or tension would be a media-
tor for those with anxious attachment, who have persistent fears
2.3.3. Attachment
about losing their partners, and among women, whose motivations
Participants completed the 12-item short form of the Experi-
towards unwanted sexual activity appear to be more strongly re-
ences in Close Relationship Scale (ECR; Wei, Russell, Mallinckrodt,
lated to attachment and relationship maintenance.
& Vogel, 2007). The ECR measures attachment in relationships
along two dimensions: anxious (e.g., I need a lot of reassurance
2. Method that I am loved by my partner) and avoidant (e.g., I try to avoid
getting too close to my partner). Participants were asked to rate
2.1. Participants their level of agreement with each statement on a 17 Likert scale
(1 = disagree strongly, 7 = agree strongly). Higher scores indicated
Participants were 155 undergraduate students (93 women and higher levels of anxious or avoidant attachment (Anxious
62 men) from at a mid-sized, Midwestern university. From a larger 1 = .77; Avoidant 1 = .85).
M. Drouin, E. Tobin / Computers in Human Behavior 31 (2014) 412418 415

Fig. 1. Frequency with which women and men engaged in unwanted but consensual sexting.

3. Results but consensual sexting were not signicantly different for men
and women X2 (4, N = 155) = 3.449, p = .486.
Our rst research question concerned the extent to which Our second research question was whether the attachment and
young adults were engaging in unwanted but consensual sexting. motivation variables associated with unwanted but consensual sex
Approximately half of those who had ever been in a committed in a face-to-face setting would also be related to unwanted but
relationship had engaged in unwanted but consensual sexting consensual sex in a virtual setting. We examined these variables
(48% of men and 55% of women). The frequency of sexting by gen- separately, rst focusing on the relationship between attachment
der is displayed in Fig. 1. Although women were slightly more and unwanted but consensual sexting. Because gender appears to
likely than men to have ever engaged in this behavior, chi-square play a role in the interactions between attachment and engaging
analyses showed that the frequencies of engaging in unwanted in unwanted but consensual sex, we conducted separate correla-
tion analyses for men and women. Table 1 shows the correlations
between attachment and unwanted but consensual sexting for
men and women as well as the means and standard deviations
Table 1 for the variables. As shown, among women anxious attachment
Descriptive statistics for womens and mens unwanted but consensual sexting,
was signicantly related to unwanted but consensual sexting;
avoidant attachment, and anxious attachment and correlations between these
variables. however, the relationships between the attachment variables and
unwanted but consensual sexting among men were weak and
Variable 1 2 3
1. Unwanted but consensual sexting .07 .03 Table 2 shows the frequency with which participants had en-
2. Avoidant attachment .19 .25*
gaged in unwanted but consensual sexting for the listed motiva-
3. Anxious attachment .24* .40**
tions and the correlations between these motivations and
Women (N = 93)
anxious and avoidant attachment. The most frequently-cited moti-
M 2.17 2.67 3.89
SD 1.33 1.33 1.30 vations were irtation, foreplay, to foster intimacy, and to fulll a
Men (N = 62) partners needs. Although these were the most frequently-cited
M 2.13 2.51 3.63 motivations for consenting to unwanted sexting, these motivations
SD 1.35 1.04 1.23 were not related signicantly to anxious or avoidant attachment.
Womens correlations are displayed below the diagonal. Mens correlations are However, two of the listed motivations were related to attachment
displayed above the diagonal. variables; consenting to avoid an argument was signicantly re-
p < .05. lated to both anxious and avoidant attachment, and consenting
p < .01.
out of loneliness was signicantly related to anxious attachment.

Table 2
Mean scores for respondents motivations for consenting to unwanted sexting and correlations with attachment anxiety and avoidance.

Motivation M SD r With anxiety r With avoidance

I wanted to be irtatious 3.15 1.74 .08 .03
I wanted foreplay 3.02 1.84 .03 .00
I wanted to fulll my partners needs 2.77 1.78 .09 .06
I wanted intimacy 2.63 1.70 .06 .06
I was bored 2.34 1.58 .07 .06
I was lonely 2.27 1.52 .18* .09
I was drinking 2.13 1.62 .09 .00
I wanted to be like my friends 1.78 1.26 .08 .07
I wanted to avoid an argument 1.72 1.31 .39** .19*
I was taking drugs 1.42 1.09 .09 .02
p < .05.
p < .01.
416 M. Drouin, E. Tobin / Computers in Human Behavior 31 (2014) 412418

Sexting to images are sometimes forwarded (e.g., Drouin et al., 2013) or used
Avoid .34** in a context beyond what the original sender intended. Thus, our
Argument nding that the majority of our participants had sexted with a rela-
tionship partner even when they did not want to is somewhat con-
Attachment Unwanted, cerning, as this type of sexual complianceparticularly if it is in the
Anxiety Consensual form of pictures or videosmay have lifelong repercussions.
In terms of gender differences in this behavior, our hypothesis
was only partially supported. Consenting to unwanted sexting
Fig. 2. Total and direct effects of attachment anxiety on frequency of unwanted but
consensual sexting in women. Total effect in parentheses. p < 0.05, p < .01. was slightly more common among women than men, but there
were no signicant differences in the frequency of this behavior.
We expected that women would be more signicantly likely to
Our next step was to test our mediation model. We expected have consented to unwanted sexting, possibly out of felt responsi-
that unwanted sexting to avoid an argument would be a mediator bility for relationship maintenance, to fulll mens uncontrollable
between anxious attachment and the frequency of unwanted but urges, or because of their relative sexual passivity (Bay-Cheng &
consensual sexting. We also predicted that this would be signi- Eliseo-Arras, 2008; Impett & Peplau, 2002, 2003). However, men
cant for women because the frequency with which they engage were almost equally likely to have consented to unwanted sexting,
in unwanted sexual activity appears to be related more to attach- which aligns well with Muehlenhard and Cooks (1998) ndings
ment variables, which is indeed what we found in our correlational that men were just as likely to have engaged in unwanted petting
analyses. Therefore, we examined our mediation model using only or intercourse.
women (see Fig. 2). Like Muehlenhard and Cook (1998), we believe that our ndings
As per Baron and Kenny (1986), we used a series of linear may be accounted for by gender-role expectations and the double
regression analyses to test our proposed model, with sexting to standard, whereby men are expected to consent to sexual activity
avoid an argument as a mediator in the relationship between anx- whereas women are expected to refuse. In other words, we believe
ious attachment and unwanted but consensual sexting. Step 1 in- that the pressures on women to consent to unwanted sexting for
volved examining the predictive relationship between the relationship maintenance or because of their relative sexual pas-
independent variable (anxious attachment) and the mediator (sex- sivity may have been matched by the pressures on men to consent
ting to avoid an argument). In this analysis, anxious attachment based on gender-role expectations and the double standard. More-
was a signicant predictor of sexting to avoid an argument over, as Muehlenhard and Cook (1998) demonstrated, men are sig-
(b = .31, p = .002, R2 = .10). In step 2, we examined the predictive nicantly more likely than women to cite response to peer
relationship between the independent variable (anxious attach- pressure and popularity as reasons for engaging in unwanted sex-
ment) and the dependent variable (unwanted but consensual sex- ual activity. Thus, it is also possible that this behavior might be rel-
ting). Anxious attachment was a signicant predictor of unwanted atively equivalent among men and women in electronic mediums
but consensual sexting, b = .25, p = .02, R2 = .06. Step 3 examined because there is usually physical evidence of sexual activity (in the
whether the partial effect of the mediator is signicant when both form of words, pictures, or videos), which men could use to provide
the mediator (sexting to avoid an argument) and independent var- evidence in response to peer pressure or to increase popularity
iable (anxious attachment) are entered simultaneously as predic- among peers. Additionally, this nding might be attributable to
tors of the dependent variable (unwanted but consensual the socially-constrained nature of the CMC medium. Guadagno
sexting). In this analysis, sexting to avoid an argument was still a and Cialsini (2002) found that women responded more positively
predictor of unwanted but consensual sexting (b = .28, p = .02, to messages delivered in face-to-face contexts than in CMC con-
R2 = .13). The nal step involves testing for mediation; mediation texts, presumably because they provide the most opportunity for
is present when the relationship between the independent and social interaction and fulllment of relationship goals. For men,
dependent variables is reduced when both the independent vari- the context did not matter as much because their social goal is
able and mediator are entered simultaneously. In this case, the independence rather than relationship formation (Guadagno &
relationship between anxious attachment and unwanted but con- Cialsini, 2002). Therefore, women may be more likely to consent
sensual sexting became non-signicant (b = .16, p = .131, to unwanted sexual activity in a face-to-face than in a CMC con-
R2 = .13). Hence, all of the conditions for mediation were satised text, because more of their social goals can be realized in a face-
(see Fig. 2). to-face context. However, men may be more likely to consent to
unwanted sexual activity in a CMC than in a face-to-face context,
because the uidity of the CMC environment allows them to fulll
4. Discussion their partners needs while maintaining their independence.
With regard to attachment, our hypothesis was supported; anx-
The sexual repertoire of young adults has now expanded so that ious attachment was signicantly related to consenting to un-
sexual interactions are occurring not only in a face-to-face context wanted sexting among women. Thus, our ndings align well with
but also via text message and online. The aim of this study was to those of Impett and Peplau (2002), who found a similar relation-
determine whether compliant sexual activity had also crossed the ship between anxious attachment and unwanted but consensual
boundaries into the virtual world and whether attachment and sex in their sample of college women, and they also align well with
motivations towards sex were related to the frequency of this the theoretical literature, which suggests that those high in anx-
behavior within committed relationships. ious attachment are likely to use hyperactivating strategies (Mikul-
Overall, we found that consenting to unwanted sexting was incer & Shaver, 2003, 2007) out of fear of losing their partners.
fairly common in our sample. Approximately one half of our partic- However, they do not align well with the ndings of Gentzler
ipants had engaged in unwanted but consensual sexting with a and Kerns (2004), who found that both attachment anxiety and
committed partner. Thus, our hypothesis that compliant sexual avoidance were signicantly related to unwanted but consensual
activity has extended to cyberspace was supported. Because un- sex among women and that attachment avoidance was signi-
wanted but consensual sexual activity may be a form of sexual cantly related to unwanted but consensual sex among men.
coercion (Sprecher et al., 1994), it was important to ascertain Although our ndings align partially with the existing literature
whether this activity exists in computer-mediated forms, where on unwanted but consensual sex, the contradictory ndings might
M. Drouin, E. Tobin / Computers in Human Behavior 31 (2014) 412418 417

also be highlighting a pronounced difference between CMC and uncover variables that could explain more of the variance in
face-to-face communication. More specically, it is possible that unwanted but consensual sexting. Finally, we relied upon
the CMC environment is especially challenging for those who are retrospective self-report for gathering our information on un-
anxiously attached, especially women, who may escalate their wanted but consensual sexting. Although this is a commonly-used
hyperactivating strategies to compensate for the constraints of method for conducting this type of research, we acknowledge that
the medium. Future studies will explore more directly the inter- retrospective self-reports have limitations.
play between medium, gender, and frequency of and attachment
characteristics associated with unwanted but consensual sexual
4.2. Conclusion
With regard to the motivations that underlie unwanted but
Our study provides an initial glance at the phenomenon of un-
consensual sexting, the most popular motivation was irtation, fol-
wanted but consensual sexting and also extends the existing work
lowed by foreplay, fullling a partners needs, and intimacy. Con-
on attachment and sexuality. Many young adults (both men and
senting to avoid an argument was rather low on this list. Overall,
women) had sent sexual text messages to committed partners
these motivations align well with the reasons cited in previous
when they do not want to. In terms of gender, men were equally
studies on unwanted but consensual sex (e.g., OSullivan & Allgeier,
likely to consent to unwanted sexting as women. These ndings
1998) and suggest that most unwanted but consensual sexting oc-
differ from some previous work, in which women far outnumber
curs to fulll relationship needs rather than to avoid conict in the
men in unwanted but consensual sex, and might be attributable
relationship. However, even though consenting to unwanted sex to
to gender-role expectations with regard to sexting and the so-
avoid an argument was relatively low on the list of motivations for
cially-constrained nature of the CMC environment. More speci-
unwanted but consensual sexting, it was strongly related to anx-
cally, men are expected to consent to sexual activity, and consent
ious attachment and also signicantly, though not as strongly, re-
of this nature (i.e., with physical evidence) might gain them accep-
lated to avoidant attachment. This pattern of results aligns
tance among peers. Alternatively, men may be more likely to con-
partially with Impett and Peplaus (2002) study, where anxious
sent to unwanted sexual activity via CMC than face-to-face
attachment was signicantly related to consenting to unwanted
because consenting to virtual sex is relatively easy and does not re-
sex to avoid conict.
quire them to invest more into the relationship; whereas for wo-
Finally, our mediation model showed that the relationship be-
men, consenting to virtual sex may fulll few of their
tween anxious attachment and unwanted but consensual sexting
relationship goals. Thus, differences between the CMC and face-
was mediated fully by the motive to avoid an argument. This sug-
to-face environments might be inuencing the relationships be-
gests that it is not anxious attachment alone that is predictive of
tween gender, attachment, and consenting to unwanted sexual
consenting to this unwanted activity, but rather that those individ-
uals who are anxiously attached are more likely to engage in sexual
In terms of motivations for unwanted but consensual sexting,
behaviors (and likely other types of behaviors) to avoid an argu-
most young adults consented to be irtatious, as foreplay, or to ful-
ment. In turn, this motivation to avoid an argument leads to more
ll relationship needs. However, it was more likely to occur among
unwanted but consensual sexting. For those hoping to develop pro-
those who were anxiously attached to their relationship partners,
grams to curb sexting among teens, this aspect of the study may
who consented to do so because they wanted to avoid an argu-
offer the most guidance. Instead of addressing attachment pat-
ment. Although each of these motivations is related to relationship
terns, which might be persistent and difcult to change, it might
maintenance, the latter motivation is problematic in that the
be more fruitful to give individuals, especially those who are anx-
boundaries between consenting to avoid an argument and sexual
iously attached to their partners, a means to negotiate sexual rela-
coercion could be easily blurred. Because of the possible legal is-
tionships peacefully and quell arguments when they arise.
sues surrounding sexting, especially as it relates to minors, these
boundaries need to be clearly dened among those who are
4.1. Limitations
requesting sex messages as well as those who are sending them.
This study was the rst known study to examine the phenom-
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