Max Bretscher

Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Open Access Thesis


School of Journalism and Mass Communications

First Advisor

Mary Anne Fitzpatrick


Using Knapp's stage theory of relationship communication, this pilot study examines "sexting" in the broader framework of relationship development, from initiation to termination. Likert-scale questions (1 = highly unlikely; 2 = highly likely) and open-ended questions were administered through Qualtrics to a small population (N = 45) of undergraduate mass communication students to determine on what communication technology, and in which stage(s) of relationships, is sexting most likely to occur. Quantitative results showed that Snapchat was considered the most appropriate medium for sexts (M = 4.60), followed by texting (4.27). Research that these mediums are used when relationships reach a high level of intimacy, which was corrobrated as participants felt "bonding," the relationship stage where intimacy and commitment are highest to be the most likely time for both sending (M = 4.58) and receiving sexts (4.64). Results also showed an overall overestimation of the likelihood to receive a sext (M = 2.51) compared to sending one (M = 2.33). The qualitative results highlighted a contradiction between the importance of comfort, and a heightened intensity and arousal associated with discomfort. A larger-scale study will be conducted in the future to look for gender differences as an explanation for these differing preferences. Together, the results paint sexting as a normative, even expected, part of courtship and intimacy formation, rather than a deviant behavior caused by the corruption of technology.