Honesty, we are constantly told, is the bedrock of a solid romantic relationship. And yet, people lie to their romantic partners all the time—to sidestep arguments, avoid hurt feelings, or cover up problematic behavior.
Now, a research team has discovered a new medium where mendacity is the norm: sexting.
In a sample of 155 college students, nearly half of those who had ever sent a sexually explicit text admitted that at least some of the messages they sent to their significant others were lies.
"Sexting lies are not usually self-serving. Instead, most tell these lies in order to help fulfill their partner’s needs, or make a sexual interchange better or more exciting."
“Deception during sexting with committed relationship partners appears to be fairly common,” writes a research team led by Michelle Drouin of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Its study is published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
Of the 155 participants (average age just under 22), 109 reported they had sent a sexually explicit text message. Among that group, 48 percent admitted lying during sexting with a committed partner.
Specifically, 20 percent said they had lied about either what they were wearing or what they were doing, while 28 percent had lied about both. Women were the more frequent liars, texting untruths far more often than men.
“When participants were asked why they lied during sexting with committed partners, two-thirds of those who provided a relevant response indicated that they did so to benefit their partner,” the researchers report.
“Thus, sexting lies are not usually self-serving. Instead, most tell these lies in order to help fulfill their partner’s needs, or make a sexual interchange better or more exciting.”
While that sounds pretty benign, another facet of the study suggests dishonest sexting may be a sign of bigger problems. It found that people who fall into the “avoidant attachment” category—that is, they resist getting too emotionally close to their partner, because intimacy causes anxiety—were more likely to lie. For them, lying might be another way to keep their emotional distance—a need that does not bode well for the future of the relationship.
Drouin and her colleagues note that they did not find sexting increases the likelihood of lovers lying. Rather, they write, “even though women lied more then men during sexting, women lied less frequently during sexting than they have been shown to lie during face-to-face sexual acts.”
That bit of information brings to mind a famous movie scene, and suggests a possible sequel. Are we ready for When Harry Texted Sally?