Treating Weiner: What is a cybersex addiction?
Former U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner has reportedly entered treatment for a cybersex addiction amid the latest revelation that he was exchanging sexually explicit messages with an underage girl. Cybersex can include viewing sexual images or content online, talking about it with others or engaging in two-way conversations about sex acts. It can also include the use of cameras to engage in sex acts with another online partner.
Aside from the obvious “is it too little too late?” question, I want to know if Weiner is hiding behind a so-called cybersex addiction and portraying himself as a victim to avoid facing the fact that he is a deeply flawed individual who should be labeled a criminal.
Of course, we know that there is concrete data on Internet sex addiction which includes pornography, and that our growing dependence on technology is helping to fuel a crisis. At the alleged in-patient facility that Weiner is reportedly holed up in, all electronic devices are banned. The unidentified facility reportedly separates patients by gender, and offers treatment for anonymous sex, pornography and exhibitionism in addition to cybersex. What bothers me, is that Weiner has chosen such a specific label for himself rather than simply admitting to a sex addition.
In 2007 a brief survey on cybersex and the effect it had on the family found that in 60.6 percent of cases, the sexual activities were limited to cybersex and did not involve physical contact. Cybersex was revealed to be a major contributing factor to separation and divorce of 22.3 percent of couples in the survey. Surprisingly, some of the couples involved reported no relational sex in months or years, and 52.1 percent of admitted addicts had decreased interest in sex with their spouse. In the same survey, 31 percent of partners said that the cybersex activities were a continuation of preexisting compulsive sexual behaviors.
Cybersex is categorized under the larger umbrella of sex addiction. According to Addiction Hope, an online addiction help & recovery resource website, sex addiction is marked by compulsive sexual thoughts and acts alongside difficulties with intimacy that can demonstrate itself as uncontrollable compulsions with pornography, masturbation, phone sex, cybersex, escorts, prostitutes, meaningless affairs, strip clubs, voyeurism and exhibitionism.
Let’s recall the first time Weiner got caught sexting back in 2011. He took two weeks paid leave and sought “treatment” with a therapist in Texas where he said he was going to work on becoming a better husband and person. It’s safe to say that the handful of sessions he attended didn’t work, as during his 2013 mayoral bid as he pleaded to New Yorkers to trust him, his sexting alter ego “Carlos Danger” sank his campaign. You would think that after two humiliating scandals, Weiner or someone in his inner circle – like, say, his then-devoted wife — would urge him to seek treatment for his so-called cybersex addiction. While we don’t know what was said behind closed doors between the two of them, we now know that he continued in his demonic ways, and that he had no moral objections to snapping a nearly-nude photo of himself next to his sleeping son, nor did he have any issues with striking up a sexting relationship with a 15-year-old girl.
With Weiner hidden away seeking treatment for his “addiction,” he avoids being labeled as a criminal pedophile and a morally flawed individual. Do you see what the problem is here? The truth is, I have a very difficult time believing that he is addicted to cybersex, because if he was, it should have come out during his treatment at the time of the 2011 scandal, and no quality licensed medical professional would have allowed him to return to work after a mere few sessions of counseling.
The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy estimates that sex addiction affects approximately 12 million adults in the U.S., with patients possibly displaying a lack of ability to set limits or boundaries on sexual urges, experiencing negative consequences as a result of sexual behavior, ignoring personal obligations or social activities to spend time indulging sexual fantasies, frequent use of impersonal sources of sexual fulfillment that do not require emotional engagement such as cybersex, emotional engagement and pornography, experiencing a sense of shame or guilt yet being unable to stop, engaging in attempts to stop the behavior and relapsing and the need to intensify sexual behavior or risk-taking activities to achieve the same high. A rise in Internet usage has also made access to hypersexual behaviors easier for addicts.
A September survey of college-aged students concluded that those who use the Internet excessively may have other mental health problems. While the standardized test used to measure excessive use of the Internet, called the Internet Addiction Test (IAT), was developed in 1998, researchers in this survey administered additional self-reported tests to measure possible addiction. The survey focused on 254 students in Canada and correlated Internet use and general mental health and wellbeing. Of the students surveyed, 33 met screening criteria for Internet addiction according to IAT. However, 107 students met the criteria for problematic Internet usage using the new tests.
“We found that those screening positive on the IAT as well as on our scale, had significantly more trouble dealing with their day to day activities, including life at home, at work/school and in social settings,” Michael van Ameringen, chief researcher, said. “Individuals with Internet addiction also had significantly higher amounts of depression and anxiety symptoms, problems with planning and time management, greater levels of attentional impulsivity as well as ADHD symptoms.”
At the survey’s conclusion researchers pondered whether experts are underestimating the prevalence of Internet addiction, and whether the other mental health issues reported are a cause or consequence of excessive reliance on the Internet. Researchers are inclusive about sex addiction for the same reasons, as it’s not clear if the disorder is a result of brain chemistry issues or a cluster of psychiatric conditions. Experts urge both types of addicts to seek help, as there are 12-step programs and treatment centers tailored to specific needs.
Addiction is a serious disease, and not one that should be tossed around cavalierly by public figures who are simply seeking an excuse for their morally wrong behavior, or are possibly trying to escape criminal persecution. If Average Joe was caught sexting an underage girl or exchanging explicit images with her, you can bet there would be charges levied against him. If Weiner is truly sick with an addiction, then I wish him nothing but the best and hope that the alleged treatment center he has chosen can help him in his journey toward better health. But should he come out the same morally flawed sexter, I’m going to hate to have to say “I told you so.”