Girls Gone Wild: Female Sex Addiction on the Web
Through sites like Craigslist, more and more young women are experimenting with anonymous sex before they understand the dangers. Welcome to the Net Generation of female sex addiction.
I would still have been a sex addict without the Internet, but it’s hard for me to picture because those two tweaky compulsions are so tightly wrapped together for me. I even discovered my sexuality and the World Wide Web at the same time.
I was 13 in 1995 when we finally went online at my house. It would be another six or seven years before I fully embraced the Internet’s ability to bring me a steady flow of anonymous sex partners. But from the moment I first heard those dulcet dial-up tones and the hopeful purr that followed, the online experience was tinged with sexual possibility.
I remember signing into a Prodigy chat room and communicating with another purported teenager whose screen name was “slyweasel13.” My mother stayed seated next to me at the computer desk, so the chatting never turned explicit, but it was loaded with flirty winking emoticons that left me panting.
Before the first dis-inhibiting sips of alcohol allowed me to go on dates with these guys, the Internet enabled me to talk to them, and maybe more thrillingly, to remake myself in the image of someone boys would want to talk to. Online, I wasn’t overweight, nearsighted, brace-faced and lacking in social skills. I was a sexual being capable of courting and receiving male attention. This was to become my most intoxicating drug.
The Internet is a dangerous place for any sex addict, but for female sex addicts, there is the extra appeal of judgment-free access to an endless stream of sex partners willing to offer intimacy, flattery, money and whatever else it takes to get our attention. While straight men may attempt to use the Internet this way, they're bound to meet with more resistance, based on the rules of sexual supply and demand. Men seeking anonymous casual sex more often have to pay for it, or at least put in a significant amount of effort.
As my sex addiction escalated, my fantasies grew more bizarre, specific and dangerous. Craigslist was the only place where I could orchestrate exactly what my increasingly twisted psyche was craving.
As a woman, my ads could have said nothing but “ooga booga,” and as long as I included my gender, I probably still would have gotten responses. Ads placed by women net hundreds of responses—as confirmed by the six women I interviewed for this article (whose names have been changed)—while men are lucky if they receive one that isn't sexual spam of the "Look at my porn site" variety. If straight men could use these sites like women do, I believe they would, as evidenced by the fact that gay men do, on sites like Grindr and Manhunt.
The “Internet boyfriend” is a rite of passage among women of my generation, especially those of us who were bullied or otherwise given to low self-esteem. Many of my female friends report finding comfort as adolescents in the attentions of older men saying nice things to them in chat rooms.
I don’t see many women in my sex recovery meetings, but I saw them online, noticed their offers of easy, no-strings-attached sex or glimpsed their shadows in my partners’ stories. I even met a few of them in person when I escalated to group sex and prostitution.
While my own first interactions were limited to the virtual world, 22-year-old Carly started using the Internet to meet men in person at age 15. “I was always a chubby kid and it was a place where I went to find men who were attracted to me," she says. "On a very regular basis I made arrangements to meet with men who were significantly older than I was.” She describes trysts at hotels, in cars and once at her home.
It's easy for insecure, underage females to meet the predatory older men everyone is always warning us about online. For me, the feelings of power, desirability and importance afforded by such an experience were more than a passing indulgence. They quickly became my whole world—even back then, I was getting in trouble for racking up huge Internet and long-distance phone bills while having phone and cyber sex with older men I thought were impressed by my maturity.
By the time I moved to New York City at 18, I was well versed in the art of self-soothing through masturbation, pornography and casual sexual relationships, cyber and otherwise. But it wasn’t until I discovered Craigslist, the community message board, and its well-populated sections for dating, sex work and casual sexual encounters, that flame truly met gasoline.
The first time I posted an ad for sex on Craigslist, my inbox was flooded in minutes with hundreds of responses. They came in faster than I could keep track of them and I spent the next several hours engaged in the trancelike process of respond-delete-refresh until the emails finally slowed to a trickle. Soon I was doing this all the time, literally losing entire days in the cycle.
“Click click click refresh refresh refresh,” recalls 31-year-old recovering sex addict Sarah, laughing about her own email obsessiveness. “I was the rat waiting for the pellet.”
The search itself was an important aspect of Carly’s story as well. “The interaction prior to meeting someone is definitely part of the allure," she says. "You’re building up to it. You’re interacting with like five people at once and when you know you’ve found that one person who you kind of have hooked or they’ve hooked you, the connection is made. Whether it’s an hour or a couple days, it’s as much of what I’m looking for as the sex.”
Craigslist doesn’t cause sex addiction. Nor is there anything inherently wrong with using the Internet to find casual sex in a non-addictive way. Among the female sex addicts I interviewed, some used the Internet in pursuit of their addiction and some didn’t. But among those who did, the Internet was a combustion engine that allowed us to fall deeper and faster into our addictions.
Sarah met partners in Craigslist’s dating section while simultaneously selling sex through the site's Erotic Services. She says, “I was going to do it no matter what. The Internet just made it easier and I could do it more. It’s like the difference between an open bar and having to buy. If you’re an alcoholic, you’ll get drunk either way, but you can get drunk a lot faster on the internet.”
For many heterosexual women, Craigslist and other hookup sites make finding your preferred partner and scenario as easy as ordering a pizza. I don’t know any other addiction where you can write a few sentences, press a button and then be treated to offer after offer of your substance of choice. Women experience this advantage in real life too, of course, but may find it easier to exercise online, where risk of rejection is less immediate and personal. While most women could probably walk into a bar and point to the guy they'd like to take home, not many of them are bold enough to do so, unless behind a veil of Internet anonymity.
As my own sex addiction escalated over the years, my fantasies grew more bizarre, specific and dangerous. Craigslist was the only place I knew of where I could orchestrate exactly what my increasingly twisted psyche was craving on that particular day. I arranged gang bangs and roleplaying scenarios, specified exact dialogue and used other humans as puppets to work out my sexual neurosis.
Much of the research and discourse on sex addiction and the Internet has centered on increased access to pornography and higher rates of cyber porn addiction. What isn’t talked about as often is how easy it is for women to take their Internet sexual obsessions into the real world. Why? Because sex addiction is a disease of escalation.