“Sexting with people you don’t know provides an immediate narcissistic feed,”
says one psychologist.
On Tuesday, Weiner, 48, a New York City mayoral candidate, held a news conference admitting that he continued to engage in inappropriate online chats even after he was forced to resign from Congress in 2011 because he had sent graphic messages — including lewd photos of himself — to women on Twitter.
The latest revelation: A gossip website posted X-rated text messages and a crotch shot that it said the former congressman exchanged with an unidentified woman.
Sexting is defined in various ways, but some say it’s the sending, receiving or forwarding of sexually explicit or provocative texts or images via cellphone, computer or other digital devices. The images may be sexually suggestive, semi-nude or nude intimate body parts.
A Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project spring 2012 survey found that the number of adults who engage in cellphone sexting has not changed since May 2010. Pew defined sexting as sending, receiving or forwarding suggestive photos or videos using one’s cellphone.
About 15% of adult cellphone owners said they have received a sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photo or video of someone they know on their phone, the report says. About 6% admit to sending one. About 3% have forwarded a sexually suggestive photo or video of someone who they know on their phone.
Younger adults are more likely to engage in sexting, the survey finds. Sending or forwarding is nearly non-existent for adults ages 45 and older, the report says.
Another Pew survey, released in October 2010, found that 4% of cellphone owners ages 12-17 say they have sent a sexually suggestive image or video of themselves. About 15% say they have received one of someone they know.
Different types of people are involved in sexting, says Joe Burgo, psychologist in Chapel Hill, N.C., and author of Why Do I Do That? “While more common with the younger, tech-savvy generation, even middle-aged people are sexting, as Anthony Weiner has made clear. Sometimes sexting can be a part of an ongoing romantic relationship; sometimes it can be used as way to get dates or casual hook-ups, and sometimes it’s a form of infidelity. In other words, I don’t think there’s one simple explanation for who sexts and why.”
Sexting “happens on all different levels from very mild — sending a photo of yourself in a bathing suit — to raunchy, sexually explicit pictures like the ones Weiner sent,” says psychologist Susan Lipkins of Port Washington, N.Y., who did an online survey on sexting.
Sexting may be flirting or a new type of mating call, she says. It can be a way to gossip as people spread photos that have been sent to them. It can be a way to have fun or be funny. Or it may be a form of sexual harassment, she says.
Lipkins says Weiner’s sexting behavior stands out because of the degree he was involved in it, and because he is a public figure. “That makes it even more questionable. It may indicate another psychological condition. It may be an addiction. It may be an obsession or compulsion. It might be part of a larger psychological problem. What we can see is it’s self-destructive. Most people would not want to be in the limelight like he is and have to explain this kind of behavior.”
Burgo says, “In the case of Anthony Weiner, and other partnered people who sext with non-partners, it strikes me as a kind of pornography, where the drive is toward excited, impersonal sex rather than true intimacy.
“With Weiner, it’s a case of pornography meets narcissism,” he says. “His narcissistic need for the public’s attention, a main driver of his political ambition, also drives him to send sexually explicit photos of himself to women. He wants to be admired for his physique and sexual prowess. And he wants many different women to be admiring him.
“Sexting with people you don’t know provides an immediate narcissistic feed. Couple that with the excitement of pornography and it can be a heady brew. It may feel much better than struggling with true intimacy in the context of a long-term marriage,” Burgo says.
Lewd behavior online is becoming more common among men and women, says Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist based in Boston. “Having a separate identity on the Internet is very seductive,” says the author ofThe Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. “It can be complicated by the possibility of Internet and porn addiction. The behavior can be symptomatic of much deeper issues.”
Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle, says exhibitionism has been around for a while but technology has expanded its reach. “The behavior that was local has now become global,” says Schwartz, who does not personally know Weiner. “We don’t talk anymore about the guy in a trench coat who runs up to somebody in a park and flashes his genitals. If you’re an exhibitionist, you have a much greater stage to play on. You can reach out to any age and any place in the world.”
Exhibitionism is a form of sexual paraphilia, defined as atypical sexual interests. At specialty clinics, treatments include cognitive behavior therapy and medication.
“I feel bad for Huma Abedin (the wife) and Anthony Weiner,” says Schwartz, AARP’s love and relationships expert. “She is unlucky in love, and he is unlucky in terms of sexual compulsions.”
usatoday.com / Nanci Hellmich and Cathy Payne / July 25, 2013
Contributing: Associated Press