New addictions, new risks: sexting behaviours as a result of internet addiction
The use of information and communication technologies has improved the relationship between people. However, the misuse of these technologies has provoked the emergence of potentially problematic behaviours such as internet addiction or sexting. Sexting refers to sending and/or receiving of sexually suggestive or sexually explicit images from one cell phone to another (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010) and it has been related to negative psychosocial consequences (Reyns, Burek, Henson, and Fisher, 2011). Previous literature has shown an increased addiction to social networks and internet for adolescents (Müller et al., 2016). Internet addiction has been associated with sexting by young people (Ricketts, Maloney, Marcum & Higgins, 2014) and social anxiety (Weinstein et al., 2015) and it has been found that girls engaging in sexting participate in other ‘risky’ sex behaviours, including the use of drugs and/or alcohol prior to having sex. The aims of this study are to test if internet addiction predicts sexting behaviours (Hypothesis 1) as well as to determine if social physical anxiety plays an important role in such relation (Hypothesis 2).
A sample of 335 Spanish adolescents answered a set of questionnaires (M=15.10, SD= 0.95) (141 men and 194 women). We used the following instruments: Social Physical Anxiety Scale (SPAS-7; Sáenz-Alvarez, Sicilia, González-Cutre & Ferriz, 2013), the Scale of risk of addiction to social networks and Internet for adolescents (ERA-RSI, Hernandez, 2018), the Internet Addiction Test (IAT; Puerta, Carbonell, Chamarro, 2012), a Scale about Sexting Behaviors (ECS; Chacón-López, Romero, Aragón, Caurcel, 2016).
Consistent with our hypotheses, higher addiction to internet and social networks (Hypothesis 1) is related to higher sexting behaviors. To test our second hypothesis, we examined whether increased addiction to internet and social network indirectly impacted the sexting behaviour through physical social anxiety (Hypothesis 2). To test this hypothesis, we tested a mediation model using PROCESS (Model 4; Hayes, 2013) to examine the direct and indirect effect of internet and social network addiction on sexting behaviours. Consistent with Hypothesis 2, in young people internet and social networking addiction was indirectly linked to higher sexting behaviours through the effect of social psychological anxiety.
The results showed that sexting behaviors are related to higher internet and social network addiction. Moreover, this relation is explained through physical social anxiety. These results show that those adolescentes who feel ashamed and uncomfortable at social offline interactions might feel safe in social networks, which might create a dependence to the internet, leading them to behave in a riskier manner than if they were in face to face interactions. This study replicates the relation between internet addiction and sexting, including the importance the social anxiety for understanding this phenomenon.