Are You Addicted To Sexting?

In the past couple of years the phenomenon of Sexting has led itself to much research. When it comes to social behaviour, sexting, which involves sending and/or receiving of suggestive messages and photographs, has taken the form of an epidemic. A part of everyday life for anyone with a smartphone, it also transcends our ideas related to gender and age when it comes to this behaviour. An online survey from Drexel University found that 82% of the 840 participants, aged 18 to 82, had sexted at least one person in the previous year. Just like with alcohol and food, there are those who end up overdoing it compulsively.

How it works

A 2014 Cambridge University study suggests that Sex addiction (officially known as Hypersexuality) mirrors a brain-changing clinical disorder like drug addiction.

Experts say, addictive sexting, which falls under the purview of sex addiction, is very much like drug use, for it leads to a rush of dopamine in the brain. The neurotransmitters cause a sense of pleasure and euphoria. Gradually, the desire to achieve this euphoria outweighs the possible negative consequences.

Researchers agree that compulsive sexting is actually an addiction of compulsion – meaning that the addiction is to the process. People can get hooked on to that feeling of euphoria and crave more for pleasure. Research also says that sexting is not about sexual satisfaction but more about an addiction to the excitement.

Excessive sexting for some can also be about seeking affirmation. Those who struggle with insecurity or low self-esteem, use sexting as an escape. If it is accompanied by a lack of impulse control, a desire for adrenaline rush and risk-taking behaviour, then soon there is a full-blown addiction to this activity.

Real-world consequences

This rush of excitement is so powerful that addicts move ahead with an artificial sense of safety and privacy. They believe that sexting is fun and safe but, says a 2016 study from Indiana University researchers, published in the journal ‘Sexual Health’, although most people who engage in sexting expect their messages to remain private, nearly one in four people are sharing the sexual messages they receive. The study found that 73% of participants reported discomfort with the unauthorised sharing of sexts beyond the intended recipients. Further, those who received sexts and shared them with others did so with an average of more than three friends. This can be outright dangerous for your real relationships, your social image and even your job. According to the study, the older a person is, the more risk they associate with sexting. Most participants, between 60 and 74%, reported that they believe sexting could hurt their reputation, career, self-esteem, or current relationships or friendships. The research also found that women were more likely to be upset with sharing than men. And men were nearly twice as likely as women to share with others. “For some, sexting may lead to positive outcomes such as increased partner intimacy and satisfaction,” said author Justin Garcia, Assistant Professor for Gender Studies and research scientist at the Kinsey Institute. “For others, it may lead to negative outcomes such as lowered self-esteem or damage to reputation. But the real risk is the nonconsensual distribution of those materials to other parties.” Clearly, digital eroticism has some real-world consequences.

What can you do?

Psychologists define the criteria for an addiction as loss of control, continuation of the behaviour despite adverse consequences, and an obsessive preoccupation. Activities related to sexting usually occur in private, but as the addiction progresses, many sexting addicts might find themselves unable to resist engaging in it in public places or in the workplace. Once the behaviour has stopped, it’s common to feel guilt or shame, often leading to serious depression.

According to The Center for Internet Addiction, founded by US-based Dr Kimberly Young, “As users dabble with sex from the privacy of their home, office, or mobile phone, they perceive that their online activities as personal and untraceable and they use the anonymity of the Internet to explore hidden or repressed sexual fantasies. As their behaviour escalates, the addiction grows and users begin to feel preoccupied with using the Internet for sexual purposes. Addicts go to a great extent to conceal their online behaviour and often feel guilt or shame because of the secret hurt they are causing to their real life partners.” Dr Young’s e-booklet, ‘Getting Web Sober: Help for Cybersex Addicts and Their Families’ provides a step-by-step recovery system for addicts and their partners. (Book available on amazon)

In the meanwhile, here are a few questions you need to ask yourself if you find yourself sexting a bit more than what you did earlier:

• Does your work suffer because you are too busy sexting?

• Does your partner/family complain of you spending too much time on your smartphone?

• Do you become secretive when someone asks you about your phone activity?

• You become anxious or upset when you have had no time to sext?

• Do you prefer sexting strangers instead of real intimacy with your life partner?

• Is your sleep being affected due to sexting?

• Do you get irritable when someone disturbs you while sexting?

• Do you feel guilty or ashamed after sexting?

If you answer most of the questions in the affirmative, it’s time for you to seek help and guidance of professionals. A self-help support group program can be part of a treatment strategy. Involving your spouse in the treatment could also be a good idea, since the emotional effects for the person, whose partner is a sexting addict, can be long lasting.

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