Sexting Statistics: Why Do People Sext & How Common Is It?

87.8% of U.S. adults aged 18+ have sexted. Although teen sexting is less common, 18.5% of those aged 12-17 have received a sexually explicit image from someone.
split screen graphic featuring three panels: at the far left, a happy man looking at his cell phone, at the far right, a smiling woman looking at her cell phone as though texting with the man, in the center a donut graph depicting that 87.8% of american adults have sexted at some point in their lifetime
Updated:October 2023

Among American adults aged 18 years or older, 87.8% report participating in sexting in their lifetime, with 82.2% saying they had done so in the past year. [1]

Key Statistics To Know:

  • 87.8% of American adults aged 18 years and older reported participating in sexting at some point in their lifetime, with 82.2% reporting that they had done so within the past year. [1]
  • 12.1% of American adults aged 18 and older reported participating in sexting outside of their relationship. [1]
  • Among married heterosexual couples in the United States who engage in sexting, 29% reported having “sexy talk with their partners while only 12% reported sending sexually explicit photographs (nude or nearly nude) at some point in their relationship. [6]
  • One study of American adults aged 18 years and older indicated that sexting as a behavior is often viewed as “fun and carefree,” yet is also “inversely related with perceived risk of sexting. [1]
  • In a study of more than 5,500 American high school and middle school students aged 12 to 17, about 13% reported that they’d sent a sexually explicit image to someone, and 18.5% reported that they’d received a sexually explicit image from someone. [3]
  • There are currently no state laws prohibiting sexting between consensual adults, however, 27 states have laws that prohibit sexting between adults and minors and in some cases, between minors as well. [4, 5]

What Is Considered Sexting?

Sexting (also known as “sex texting”) is the act of sending or receiving a sexually explicit message, image (nude or semi-nude), or video, usually through a smartphone, app, tablet, computer, or other digital device with texting capabilities.

In this article, we’ll explore how common sexting is among adults, married couples, and teenagers, as well as why people sext and states that have laws on the books regarding the activity.

How Common Is Sexting? (Adults)

donut graph depicting that 87.8% of american adults aged 18 years and older reported sexting at some point in their lifetime
  • 87.8% of American adults aged 18 years and older reported participating in sexting at some point in their lifetime, with 82.2% reporting that they had done so within the past year. [1]
  • 73.9% of American adults aged 18 years and older reported they participated in sexting within a committed relationship. [1]
  • Among American adults aged 18 years and older, 43% reported participating in sexting within a casual relationship. [1]
  • 12.1% of American adults aged 18 and older reported participating in sexting outside of their relationship. [1]
  • Among American adults aged 18 years and older, 76.1% sext from home. [1]
  • 30% of American adults aged 18 years and older report sexting in a work environment or while away from home (“out and about”). [1]
  • 95.9% of American adults who sexted reported doing so from a smartphone or cell phone. [1]

Thanks in large part to smartphones, sexting has become a normative sexual behavior.

While these stats refer particularly to individuals aged 18 and up, it is likely sexting is more common among younger populations.

Sexting Among Married Couples

bar graph depicting that among heterosexual couples in the united states, 29% report engaging in sexy talk via text and 12% report sharing nude photos via sexting
  • Among married heterosexual couples in the United States who engage in sexting, 29% reported having “sexy talk with their partners” while only 12% reported sending sexually explicit photographs (nude or nearly nude) at some point in their relationship. [6]
  • That same study found that 19% of husbands and 16% of wives reported sending “sexy messages” once a week or more. [6]
  • Among married heterosexual couples in America, about 12% of wives and 11% of husbands reported sending “sexy messages” once per month. [6]
  • Among heterosexual married couples in the United States who reported sending nude photos to their partner, 5% of husbands and 3% of wives said they do so once a month or more. [6]
  • 9% of wives and 7% of husbands in heterosexual marriages in the United States reported sending nude photos to their partners less than once a month. [6]

Sexting appears less common among married couples than others.

This may be due to age (married individuals are more likely to be older) and because sexuality tends to diminish over time in relationships.

However, about 1/3 do exchange some type of sexual messages, with fewer sending explicit pictures.

Even for couples who have been together awhile, digital flirting can still be fun in marriage!

Why Do People Sext?

text graphic about why people sext that reads: one study found that greater levels of sexting are associated with greater sexual satisfaction, which was highest among those who are dating or in a relationship versus being single
  • One study of American adults aged 18 years and older found that for those who are in a relationship that is not “very committed,” sexting is “positively associated with satisfaction.” Satisfaction was found to be unrelated to sexting among those in “very committed” relationships. [1]
  • One study of American adults aged 18 years and older indicated that sexting as a behavior is often viewed as “fun and carefree,” yet is also “inversely related with perceived risk of sexting. [1]
  • One study focused on adults in Britain found that mutual trust played an important role in sexting and that sharing intimate pictures with another person “was seen as a way that trust could be evoked, demonstrated, and reinforced.” [2]
  • That same study found that men, regardless of their sexual identity, were less worried about the possibility of their images “getting out” (shared with others) as a result of sexting, compared to women. [2]
  • Many women in one study reported protecting themselves by not showing their faces while sexting intimate pictures to someone else. [2]
  • Among adults in a British study, sexting was seen as a demonstration or reinforcement of desire and intimacy, often as a form of foreplay, a precursor to a sexual encounter in the future, or a way of strengthening intimacy after sex. [2]

Given that many feel sexting is fun, yet also acknowledge some risk, it makes sense that sexting would be associated with a sense of trust.

By sending a suggestive photo, it is generally assumed the picture will stay between the couple, and taking this risk together can enhance intimacy.

Sadly, “revenge porn” demonstrates this trust is not always upheld, though typically with a trustworthy partner, sexting can enhance the relationship.

Teen Sexting Frequency

bar graph depicting that among american high school and middle school students aged 12 to 17, 13% report sending a sexually explicit text via sexting and 18.5% report receiving a sexually explicit text via sexting
  • In a study of more than 5,500 American high school and middle school students aged 12 to 17, about 13% reported that they’d sent a sexually explicit image to someone, and 18.5% reported that they’d received a sexually explicit image from someone. [3]
  • About one-third of American high school and middle school students aged 12 to 17 who reported sexting a sexually explicit image reported doing so only once. [3]
  • Among American high school and middle school students aged 12 to 17, 17.5% reported that they had been asked to send a sext (a sexually explicit image) to someone. [3]
  • Among American males aged 12 to 17, 12.7% reported having sent a sexually explicit image to a boyfriend or girlfriend at some point in their life, with 5.1% reporting they had done so in the last month. [3]
  • Among American females aged 12 to 17, 8.5% reported having sent a sexually explicit image to a boyfriend or girlfriend at some point in their lifetime, with 3.3% reporting they had done so in the last month. [3]
  • 6.7% of American high school and middle school students aged 12 to 17 reported sending sexually explicit images to someone who was not a current boyfriend or girlfriend. [3]
  • 4.8% of male American high school and middle school students aged 12 to 17 reported that someone had shared a sext (sexually explicit image) of them without permission, and 4.7% reported sharing a sext (sexually explicit image) of someone without their permission. [3]
  • 3.5% of female American high school and middle school students aged 12 to 17 reported that someone had shared a sext (sexually explicit image) of them without their permission, and 3.6% reported sharing a sext (sexually explicit image) of someone without permission. [3]

As sexting has become commonplace among adults, it is unsurprising some teens have experimented with sexting as well.

Teen sexting can be concerning for legal as well as social issues.

Some may share photos of their own volition, though the risk of pressure and later exposure may also be greater among younger populations, which could have significant effects on mental health.

States With Laws About Sexting

map graphic depicting states that have laws against sexting between adults and minor and/or between minors: washington, nevada, utah, arizona, hawaii, colorado, new mexico, north dakota, south dakota, nebraska, kansas, oklahoma, texas, arkansas, lousiana, illinois, indiana, tennessee, alabama, georgia, florida, pennsylvania, new york, new jersey, connecticut, rhode island, vermont

As of this writing, there are no state laws that prohibit sexting between consensual adults, however, more than half of states (27) have laws prohibiting sexting between adults and minors and in some cases, between minors as well. [4, 5]

  1. Arizona
  2. Arkansas
  3. Colorado
  4. Connecticut
  5. Florida
  6. Georgia
  7. Hawaii
  8. Illinois
  9. Indiana
  10. Kansas
  11. Louisiana
  12. Nebraska
  13. Nevada
  14. New Jersey
  15. New Mexico
  16. New York
  17. North Dakota
  18. Oklahoma
  19. Pennsylvania
  20. Rhode Island
  21. South Dakota
  22. Tennessee
  23. Texas
  24. Utah
  25. Vermont
  26. Washington
  27. West Virginia

Sexting among consenting adults can indeed be both legal and fun, though it would be wise for minors to be aware of their state’s laws before giving it a try.

Sources: