The thing that you always suspected about sexting has been scientifically confirmed: Much of that meticulously described lingerie and ecstatic stroking is a lie. A new study in the April issue of the journal Computers in Human Behavior amassed 155 college students, winnowed them down to 109 “active sexters,” and grilled them about their mendacious ways with SMS. Just under half (48 percent) admitted that, mid-text session, they had misrepresented to their committed partners “what they were wearing, doing, or both.”
Researchers also unmasked a gender difference in deception, finding that 45 percent of women bent the truth in their sexts, compared to 24 percent of men. Most of the surveyed students (67 percent) claimed they fibbed for their partner’s benefit, presumably to fuel the daydream, while a third copped to fibbing because they were bored.
Of course, we all lie in person too—is a fake sext any different from a fake orgasm? As a medium, sexting feels peculiarly suited to a more benign type of fabrication (also known as storytelling): It aims to construct a shared fantasy of togetherness with someone who is not physically present. “Wildly imaginative leaps are possible,” writes Maureen O’Connor in her excellent deep dive into the genre. The simulated “self of sexting can be markedly different from the self who actually has sex,” and isn’t that kind of the point?
O’Connor also notes that “55 percent of women and 48 percent of men have engaged in ‘consensual but unwanted sexting,’ i.e., sexting when they’re not that into it.” These could be the bored people who lie. However, at least for women, the statistics on ‘consensual but unwanted’ regular sex look the same: 55 percent of women have done it (compared to 26 percent of men). Since rote erotic acts seem pretty frequent, perhaps our lies do hint at disengagement from the person at the other end of the line, or on the other side of the bed. But in this case, as in so many others, the technology seems to be abetting a natural human impulse, not rewiring our brains.
As for how many people lie when sexting with randos they aren’t committed to, we’ll have to wait for another study to see the numbers on that, but life experience tells me it will be greater than 48 percent.