Sexting among British adults: a qualitative analysis of sexting as emotion work governed by ‘feeling rules’

Macdowall, Wendy G., Reid, David S., Lewis, Ruth, Bosó Pérez, Raquel, Mitchell, Kirstin R., Maxwell, Karen J., Smith, Clarissa, Attwood, Feona, Gibbs, Jo, Hogan, Bernie, Mercer, Catherine H., Sonnenberg, Pam and Bonell, Chris (2023) Sexting among British adults: a qualitative analysis of sexting as emotion work governed by ‘feeling rules’. Culture, Health and Sexuality, 25 (5). pp. 617-632. ISSN 1369-1058

Macdowall_etal_2022_Sexting-among-british-adults-a.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution 4.0.

Download (2MB) | Preview
Official URL:


Sexting has generated considerable public and professional interest with concerns centring on young people, and potential harms to mental and sexual health. Little research thus far has explored the practice among adults and none has focused on the cultural norms relating to the emotional experience of sexting across different ages and genders. We conducted 40 semi-structured interviews with a diverse sample of adults aged 18-59 years in Britain on the role of digital technologies in participants’ sexual lives. In this paper, we draw on the accounts of 34 people with experience of sexting. We identified three main themes in participants’ accounts related to the emotional aspects of sexting: (1) trust, (2) desire/intimacy and (3) shame. Under each theme, we identified motivations, ‘feeling rules’, and examples of ‘emotion work’ relating to the self, the other and the dyad. We conclude that there are shared cultural norms that constitute what appropriate sexting should feel like. Interventions aiming to minimise harms arising from sexting need to build on commonly held cultural conventions regarding the ‘rules of the game’ concerning feelings as well as behaviours.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Funding information: The Natsal Resource is supported by a grant from the Wellcome Trust (212931/Z/18/Z), with contributions from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). At time of research RRL, RBP and KRM are supported by the United Kingdom Medical Research Council [MC_UU_12017/11 and MC_UU_00022/3] and the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office [SPHSU11 and SPHSU18]. The views expressed in this output are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the funders. This research was funded in whole, or in part, by the Wellcome Trust [212931/Z/18/Z]. For the purpose of Open Access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising from this submission.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Sexting, adults, emotion work, feeling rules
Subjects: L300 Sociology
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Arts
Depositing User: Elena Carlaw
Date Deposited: 16 Aug 2022 10:01
Last Modified: 28 Jun 2023 09:00

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics