One of the major theories regarding relationships is called attachment theory. It suggests that the way you related to your caregiver(s) as an infant, and the way your caregiver(s) related to you, shapes how you come to view relationships later in life.
If your caregiver was attuned to your needs and responsive, you (most likely) developed a secure attachment. This means you are comfortable with close relationships because your experience paid off—Mom or Dad was there when you were distressed or hungry or cold. From that experience, you learned that relationships are safe and reciprocal, and your attachment anxiety is low. But, if your caregiver was not attuned to your needs, was intrusive or inattentive, you might have developed what is called an insecure attachment. If something you wanted emotionally or physically (like comfort) went unfulfilled, you might end up anxious about relationships as an adult. You might realize that relationships may not be trustworthy, not invest in close relationships, or avoid intimacy all together. (Rob Weisskirch, The Conversation, August 29, 2016; “Why Do People Sext and Who Is Likely to Do It?”)
Hazan & Shaver (1987) identified three broad ways in which we may become attached.
- Securely attached people describe their relationships as involving happiness, friendship, and trust. “I find it relatively easy to get close to others, and I am comfortable depending on them, and having them depend on me. I don’t often worry about being abandoned, or about someone getting close to me.”
- Avoidant individuals describe a fear of closeness. “I am somewhat uncomfortable being close to others. I find it difficult to trust them completely, difficult to allow myself to depend on them. I am nervous when anyone gets too close, and often love partners want me to be more intimate than I feel comfortable being.”
- Anxious ambivalent people describe a love life full of emotional extremes, obsessive preoccupations, the desire for union with the partner, desire for reciprocation with the partner, and love at first sight. “I find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I often worry that my partner doesn’t really love me or want to stay with me. I want to merge completely with another person, and this desire sometimes scares people away.”
“Over the course of human history, there have always been periods of evolution and transformation of existing thought processes in the social, political, and cultural climate. Moreover, personal, artistic, and sexual expression have also evolved over time. From “free love,” to the Playboy era, to the women’s sexual liberation movement there have been many examples of paradigm shifts in adult sexual expression. As with most social shifts, some of these changes have brought unforeseen and unintended consequences and, ultimately, the need for society to address these consequences and associated risks.
The rise of the Internet and smart phones has created a proliferation of “sexting” between adults and, even more concerning, youths. The term sexting is used generally to encompass a wide variety of digital activities: sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs, or images. Although mobile phones are the most common vehicle for sexting, the term can also apply to sending sexually explicit messages through any digital media such as email, instant messaging, and/or social media sites.
“Sexting is somewhat of a natural marriage of previous forms of sexual expression and modern technology. It was once treated as deviant behavior but was not thought to be widespread. However, as we have learned over the past few years, it is actually a widely prevalent phenomenon and is often rapidly replacing more traditional forms of sexual expression and sexual communication. In this regard, mental health professionals should be addressing this behavior as a natural expression of normative sexual behavior between consenting adults. Additionally, we must also be aware of the potential of sexting to cause catastrophic consequences in vulnerable populations susceptible to victimization such as women, minors, and persons with mental health issues.”
(Swathi Krishna, MD, “Psychiatric Times,” December 30, 2019; “Sexting: The Technological Evolution of the Sexual Revolution.”)
Since the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project (a nationally representative survey of those ages 12-17 conducted on landline and cell phones) first started tracking teen cell phone use, the age at which American teens acquire their first cell phone has consistently grown younger. The Project first began surveying teenagers about their mobile phones in 2004, and a survey showed that 45% of teens had a cell phone. Since that time, mobile phone use has climbed steadily among teens ages 12 to 17 – to 63% in fall of 2006 and then to 71% in early 2008.
Texting has become a centerpiece in teen social life, and parents, educators and advocates have grown increasingly concerned about the role of cell phones in the sexual lives of teens and young adults. Press coverage and policy discussions have focused on how teens are using or misusing cell phones as part of their sexual interactions and explorations. The greatest amount of concern has focused on “sexting” or the creating, sharing and forwarding of sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images by minor teens.
(Amanda Lenhart; Pew Internet)
Questions arise as to how the way in which we communicate by phone can affect our relationships. What does the way in which we use our phones to stay in touch say about us?
Is There an Association Between Sexting and Attachment Style?
The research on sexting and attachment style has indicated that those who send sexually explicit messages and attempt to initiate sex through texting also tend to display either avoidant or anxious attachment styles with romantic partners. For example, Drouin and Langraff (2012) suggested that individuals who possess anxious attachment styles engage in sexting as a hyperactivating strategy, which means they are compulsively seeking proximity and protection. However, people with an avoidant attachment style employ sexting as a deactivating strategy—sexting meets their sexual needs, but at the same time keeps their partner at a distance.” (Martin Graff Ph.D.; “Psychology Today,”Posted Jan 06, 2016;“What Your Sexting Really Reveals: Research Into Who Is Most Likely To Sext, and Why.”)
Navigating sexuality and relationships can be difficult at any age. When new things enter our environment, like technology, we adapt. However, the ways in which we change as individuals, and as a society, can be confusing and even scary at times.
*If you are curious about your attachment style, you can take a free quiz on the website of Dr. Diane Poole Heller: Attachment Styles Test: https://dianepooleheller.com/attachment-test/
**If you are concerned about your teen’s behavior and/or their safety, please consider reaching out to us.