People who send ‘sexts’ – sexually explicit messages, photographs or videos with their phone – tend to have dark personality traits, a study reveals.
They linked the habit of sending sexts to two personality traits that make up the famous ‘Dark Triad’ psychological model – narcissism and Machiavellianism.
Machiavellianism is characterised by manipulation and exploitation of others, a cynical disregard for morality and a focus on self-interest and deception, while narcissism is characterised by grandiosity, pride, egotism, and a lack of empathy.
Until now, the relationship between sexting and these three classic psychological traits have not been well-researched, according to the study authors.
Sexting – sending sexually explicit messages, photographs or videos with a phone – is linked with narcissism and Machiavellianism, a study reveals. The latter is the use of clever but often dishonest methods that deceive people in order to win power or control
WHAT IS THE ‘DARK TRIAD’?
Dark Triad comprises three ‘dark’ personality traits – narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy
The dark triad is a name given to three personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism.
When all three traits are found in a single person, it implies a malevolent personality.
All three dark triad traits are conceptually distinct, but have been shown to have an overlap.
Narcissism is characterised by grandiosity, pride, egotism, and a lack of empathy.
Machiavellianism is characterised by manipulation and exploitation of others. It is also often linked to a cynical disregard for morality, and a focus on self-interest and deception.
Psychopathy is characterised by continuing antisocial behaviour, impulsivity, selfishness, callousness, and remorselessness.
The study has been led by psychologists at Sapienza University of Rome in Italy, but also includes researchers from the University of Huddersfield in the UK.
‘Sexting is an increasingly common phenomenon among adolescents and young adults,’ they say in their paper. ‘Very few studies have investigated the role of maladaptive personality factors in sexting.
‘The present study provided empirical evidence that different sexting behaviours were predicted by Dark Triad personality traits.’
Sexting, which has grown especially among the young with the proliferation of smartphone use, is legal if it occurs between consenting adults (over the age of 18).
But as with any sexual behaviour, a dangerous line is crossed when sexts are unsolicited and not consensual.
So the researchers distinguished between three different types of sexting – ‘experimental’, ‘risky’ and ‘aggravated’.
‘Experimental’ refers to the consensual exchange of sexual content ‘for addressing young people’s developmental tasks and needs’, such as exploring their sexuality and identity.
It’s worth pointing out that it is illegal for two people to exchange sexts containing sexually-explicit or sexually-suggestive images of anyone under 18, however.
‘While police would need to record the incident if they became aware of it, they would likely treat it as a safeguarding issue if between two individuals under the age of 18 and in the absence of any coercion,’ study author John Synnott at the University of Huddersfield told MailOnline. However, this might be treated by police differently if the age difference was large, such as if a sext was sent from a 17-year-old to an 11-year-old.
Meanwhile, ‘risky’ sexting is defined as sexting in conjunction with other risky behaviours, such as sexting under the influence of alcohol or drugs or sexting with strangers or people known only online.
‘Aggravated’ sexting refers to harmful behaviours such as publicly sharing sexts of someone without their consent, or coercive sexting ‘under threats’ or under pressure by a partner or friends.
‘Generally speaking, a rough distinction can be drawn regarding the positive (i.e., experimental sexting) and negative aspects of sexting (i.e., aggravated or risky sexting),’ the researchers say.
The study investigated the relationship between Dark Triad personality factors and tendency to engage in these three types of sexting behaviours.
Researchers recruited a total of 6,093 participants (3,682 girls and 2,401 boys), with average age of 20.35, but ranging in age from 13 to 30 years old.
All participants were from Belgium, China, Czech Republic, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Uganda or the US.
They completed an anonymised online survey to determine the extent to which they send or receive ‘sexually suggestive or provocative messages/photos/videos via mobile phone and/or Facebook or other internet social networking site[s]’.
They also completed the Dark Triad Dirty Dozen scale – a 12-item personality inventory that determines levels of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy.
Researchers found that sharing experimental, risky and aggravated sexts was positively predicted by Machiavellianism and narcissism, but not psychopathy.
‘Results showed that boys were more likely to be involved in risky sexting and in both forms of aggravated sexting,’ the team say.
The results also revealed that males were involved in more sexting under pressure, such as from a partner.
Older participants were more likely to be involved in sharing own sexts and risky sexting than younger ones.
Whether sexting is legal depends on what the image is or what the chat involves and who it is sent between. However, it is a crime to possess, take, make, distribute or show anyone an indecent or abuse image of a child or young person under 18 years of age (stock image)
However, younger participants reported more aggravated sexting – non-consensual sexting and sexting under pressure – than older participants.
This could be related to the fact that adolescents are ‘less oriented toward the future’ and show fewer considerations ‘for future consequences that lead them to involve in more aggravated forms of sexting’, the team say.
According to the experts, prior research has linked sexting with substance use, depression, feelings of sadness or hopelessness, attempted suicide, lower levels of psychological well-being and less confidence in one’s social skills.
The study – which has clinical and educational implications for prevention programmes, according to the team – has been published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
IS SEXTING LEGAL?
Sexting is when a person takes an indecent image of themselves and sends it to a friend, spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend via their mobile phone.
Sexting is legal if it occurs between consenting adults.
However, if a person is sent sexually explicit material and they are not wanted, the sender could potentially be subject to harassment charges.
Anyone who has or sends indecent images of someone under the age of 18 is breaking the law.
So while the age of consent is 16, the relevant age in relation to indecent images is 18.
‘It is illegal in England to share an image of someone under the age of 18 in a sexual way e.g. naked, topless, in underwear, even if consensual,’ John Synnott at the University of Huddersfield told MailOnline.
It is also illegal for two people under the age of 18 to exchange sexual images and videos.
‘While police would need to record the incident if they became aware of it they would likely treat it as a safeguarding issue if between two individuals under the age of 18 and in the absence of any coercion,’ said Synnott.
‘Although obviously [this is] likely to be treated different if age gap was large (e.g. 11-17).’
However, it is not illegal for two people under the age of 18 to exchange sexual text.
‘Text only content is NOT illegal, provided it is not in breach of existing obscenity laws,’ Katrina Miles, a postgraduate research student at the University of Liverpool, told MailOnline.
‘The term “sext” is a confusing one because it suggests “text” content and a lot of the academic literature talks about text-based content, so I try to avoid it and opt instead for Youth Produced Sexual Imagery.’
Source: CareCheck/Cambridgeshire Constabulary/PSNI