Hit any bar or restaurant and chances are you'll see tables full of people glued to their smartphones rather than talking to each other. It's a bizarre facet of life, but it's the harsh reality we live in. These days, we're more concerned with the words and images on our screens than actually staying present and living in the moment - and this brings a wave of modern problems.
With around 85% of people owning smartphones, the vast majority of the population is constantly wired up to endless information every second of the day. Anything we want, we can have immediately, and yes, that includes things like online pornography and other forms of explicit media. One such form is sexting - the global phenomenon of exchanging raunchy messages with a consensual partner.
Sexting might not sound like something you could become 'addicted' to, but the reality is that a staggering number of people suffer from forms of sexual addiction, sexting included. If you want to inform yourself about the ups and downs of this illness - as well as information on how to break any bad habits - please read this guide to sexting addiction.
Sexting addiction is a form of online porn addiction that sees people prioritize virtual sexual gratification over other areas of their life. Sexting addiction is the inability to refrain from engaging in acts of cybersex, be it exchanging messages, sexually explicit pictures or engaging in phone sex.
It's a modern form of behavioral addiction, which is defined by the National Institutes of Health as follows: "A Behavioral Addiction (or impulse-control disorder), is delineated 'behaviors… which produce short-term reward that may engender persistent behaviour despite knowledge of adverse consequences, i.e., diminished control over the behaviour.'"
Those with a sexual addiction may ignore negative consequences in order to indulge their desire for recreational sexting activities. Sex addicts might display the following symptoms:
Is sexting or pornography addiction really such a big issue? After all, it's just sex. Surely it can't be on the same level as drug abuse or substance abuse? Well, any kind of over-indulgence can become a serious addiction problem regardless of the initial harm caused by the indulgence itself. Even things considered harmles such as video games, piercings or tattoos can lead to extreme addictive behavior.
In addition to increasing volatile addictive behaviors, sexting also comes with a number of 'cross addiction' factors too. By default, sexting involves intimate, emotional and sometimes even physical connections with other human beings. The nature of sexting; transient and short-term, means that addiction to this behavior can cause a distorted perception on real life intimate connections, sexual intercourse and lead to further mental health issues down the line.
One positive takeaway from this is that cybersex addicts suffer from a behavioral addiction, not a mental illness. Sexual addiction is learned and developed through habits rather than something ingrained in a person's biological makeup. Therefore, while sexual addiction can be crippling, such addictive disorders can be broken and dealt with in a healthy manner.
Sex addiction doesn't just begin overnight. It takes months of regular usage to develop from a passing interest into a behavioral addiction. Furthermore, motivations can vary regarding why people are initally drawn to sexting in the first place. While the act of engaging in sexual acts may be the primary motive, other factors may contribute into what could eventually become an addiction.
One of the most common reasons for sex addiction is avoidance from other areas of a person's life. Sexting, as well as other addictions in similar areas, may be used as a form of distraction from addressing more long-term, deep-rooted issues. One common example is relationship issues, thus forcing people to fill this emotional void with short-term pleasures.
Relationship and love life issues are common triggers, although any form of trauma can spark an unhealthy devotion to sexting. Traumas such as medical issues, deaths of loved ones, financial worries, loneliness, extended isolation, and many more can all be major contributing factors to mass sending sexual messages.
One of the simple truths is that sexting can be fun. It provides the same physical and emotional highs that often comes with regular sexual interactions, and anything that brings reactionary pleasure is naturally going to allure people. Sexual reactions light up the 'reward centers' of our brains; the receptors that activate when we experience postive emotions.
Humans are hardwired to seek out activities that light up these receptors, and they're most commonly activated when we 'achieve' something. Things such as completing big projects, exercising or finishing a difficult task will alight these receptors, but short-term highs such as sexting offer a convenient shortcut to the same results. Regular abuse of this reward system can form an inability to control behavior.
If your committed relationship is enduring hardships, then watching porn and sexting other people can seem attractive to many people. Engaging in these brief acts of pleasure may be preferable than dealing with the issues alongside your real life partner since there's much less effort involved in the latter. As of 2015, extramarital sexting has been the second-most common cause of breakups.
Similarly, sext addiction may form given a lack of relationships in a person's life. With no emotional support structure in place, it's very easy for someone to get their fix of emotional fulfilment through sexting or online-only companions. A natural progression of regular sexting may then begin to form unhealthy habits such as associating sexting with emotional gratification.
In today's world, we have millions of potential online interactions at our fingertips every moment of the day. This constant interconnectivity makes it easy to find sexting partners without issue, and the abundance of chat rooms and messaging apps ensure that we can contact multiple partners simultaneously whenever the urge arises.
Likewise, there are countless accessible platforms that cater entirely to the sending and receiving of explicit messages, as well as places that specialize in more immersive adult entertainment such as personalized porn and paid phone sex. Any who wants to send sext messages can do so instantly and usually for free.
Many experts believe that sexting and sex addictions operate on a similar level since both are behavioral addictions that provide high and euphorias that influence you continue engaging in the activity. Likewise, both forms of addiction can be encouraged by a lack of stability in other areas of a person's life.
If you're a regular sexter, you might be pondering the question; am I a sexting addict? Going by likelihoods, chances are you're not a sexting addict. Even if you engage in sexting on a regular or even daily basis, the addiction comes from the motivation rather than the act itself. For example, daily sexting is common and often encouraged in healthy and long distance relationships, but it doesn't mean the people involved are doing it out of compulsion.
Before self-diagnosing yourself as a sexting addict, ask yourself the following questions:
If you believe you may be a sexting addict, there are a number of options available to help you break the habit and begin forming a more healthy connection to sext and sexting. There are easily accessible support groups available for such addictions, and if your actions are affecting intimate relationships, consider couples or family therapy to help you come to terms with your condition. For more severe cases, consider professional help.
With this in mind, sext addiction can be immensely difficult to stop. As with all behavioral addictions, it taps into the pleasure centers of the brain and “hijacks” brain processing. In a short time, choice becomes severely inhibited, and these urges are often magnified by the easy access we have to smartphones and mobile devices.
While professional help is advised, there are a few personal steps you make to help alleviate the desire to send explicit images and text messages to new partners. If you want to set yourself up on a path to a healthier mindset, begin with these small steps:
If left untreated, sext addiction can become a crippling issue that can greatly affect a person's day to day life. The longer it goes untreated, the more difficult the recovery. Therefore, if you or anyone else is struggling, we advise you to seek help as soon as possible.