Anthony Weiner's Latest Scandal Calls Sexting Addiction Into Question

By David Konow 08/31/16

The former Congressman is in hot water after being caught sending a racy sext with his four-year-old child in the background. 

Anthony Weiner's Latest Scandal Calls Sexting Addiction Into Question
Photo via CNN/YouTube

In a clear case of déjà vu, former congressman Anthony Weiner has gotten in trouble once again for sexting pictures of himself—and the public embarrassment has driven his wife, Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, to announce she’s leaving the marriage. With Weiner’s odd peccadillo hitting the news again, it’s prompted the question of whether sexting is an addiction or bad judgment.

Caitlin Dewey wrote an editorial for the Washington Post about Weiner’s latest predicament. In it, she asked the rhetorical question, “Man, is that guy sick?” Weiner’s “apparent inability to stop sabotaging his career and his family—over sexts, of all the stupid things—would appear to have all the trappings of a full-blown pathology.”

Yet, Dewey drew the conclusion that “there’s virtually no scientific consensus that sexting can be ‘addictive,’ in any traditional way.” Dewey points out that there hasn’t been much research that points to this kind of behavior as having “the same sorts of neurological patterns that characterize substance abuse,” and that whatever research there is on this subject claims that these kinds of behaviors “frequently coexist with other problems, like depression, substance abuse, and anxiety disorders.”

What is clear is that sexting can be an act that is associated with people who engage in other “high-risk behaviors.” One psychotherapist that Dewey cited linked sexting with narcissism.

The debate as to whether sexting is an addiction or not has been raised in the midst of Weiner's latest scandal. New York magazine spoke to David Ley, a psychologist who wrote the book The Myth of Sex Addiction. Ley apparently feels that sex addiction is too broad and simple of a term to label Weiner’s behavior, which is far more psychologically complex.

“Calling Anthony Weiner a sex addict is a distraction from the important issues of personal responsibility and mindful choice,” Ley said. “It’s also a sad form of slut-shaming.” Ley also feels that labeling Weiner’s behavior as simply sex addiction “ignores the fact that sex is always a complex, overdetermined behavior and that sex is often used by men to cope with negative feelings. Does he have other ways to try to make himself feel attractive and valued? Sadly, calling him a sex addict ignores all of these much more important concerns.”

Dr. Perry Halkitis, a professor of Global Public Health at New York University, believes that sex addiction is very real. Halkitis told The Wrap, “It’s an addiction. And part of the recovery, whether it’s nicotine, drugs, alcohol or sexting, is relapse. Sexting, like drug use, leads to a rush of dopamine in the brain,” he explained. “Those neurotransmitters cause a sense of euphoria and pleasure. The desire for the pleasure outweighs the negative consequences that are sure to follow.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.