Girls Gone Wild: Female Sex Addiction on the Web - Page 2

By Emma Lee 04/09/12

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.

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Dr. Leslie Beth Wish, a psychologist and licensed clinical social worker specializing in women’s issues, agrees that "acting out" online is especially easy for female sex addicts. “After a while you want something else or something more. It’s no longer satisfying to do whatever you’re doing, and now you want greater intensity—greater pain, more frequency or a sense of danger.”

The accessibility of these online connections allows those of us who are Looking for Mr. Goodbar-type addicts to get sicker more quickly. The character in the book has one-night stands with men she picks up in bars, night after night, eventually resulting in her own murder. Carly says, “If the Internet didn’t exist, I probably would never have had the opportunity to do a lot of what I’ve done. It just made it really easy and really anonymous. I could just sit down with my computer and within an hour or two have it nailed down.” 

The Internet makes possible a sort of extreme promiscuity that can easily grow out of control. Lisa, 37, who recently hit a year of sexual sobriety, says, “I lost count of how many people I'd slept with when I was in my early twenties. At that point it was around 100 people. I spent years after that without slowing down, so I'm not sure how many. I used a dating site for anonymous hookups. The form was life-threatening unsafe and unconscious sex. It was and is a compulsion for me. Almost like a nervous tic.”

According to Stanford Researcher Al Cooper, 40 percent of the most extreme cyber sex users are women, and those women are likely to ignore normal safety precautions to put themselves in high-risk situations with men they don’t know.  

Sometimes, after a successful encounter with one person I found online, the door would barely close behind them before I checked my email and started the whole process over again. At my worst, I was holding down a full-time job, but having anonymous sexual encounters up to three times a day—in the morning before work, on my lunch break when I would slip out to meet a man at a short-stay hotel, and after work before I headed home for the evening. That level of acting out would have been difficult to arrange without a steady stream of sex partners coming from online sex ads. 

Dr. Wish says, “In the '80s, you had gateways. You could go to Plato’s Retreat in New York and meet other people who did 'swinging.' Now the Internet isn’t a gateway, it’s a floodgate.” 

According to Dr. Wish, the biggest difference between female sex addicts she’s treated pre-Internet boom and post- is that both the opportunities and the shame have increased exponentially, as the addiction has gone from something out in the open to a secret life played out in a virtual world. 

Both addiction and the Internet are weird compartmentalized shadowlands. They make great bedfellows, the Internet aiding and abetting in the addict’s tendency to lead a furtive double life.

“There are no last names,” says Carly. “It’s very rare that there was ever someone I had a repeat encounter with. As soon as you don’t want to interact with that person anymore, it’s as simple as blocking them. Game over. You move on like it never happened.” 

Sheri describes what he looks like and a few other details. Yes, I have had sex with him, too, a few years ago. On the face of it, our addictions are so different, but we ended up in exactly the same place, getting spit on by the same guy. 

“Even though you can get pornography and hookups, it’s now seen as something that you can do in private on the computer and nobody knows about it," Dr. Wish explains. "You’ve got freedom, but the other side of the coin is ‘Oh my god, I’m doing this in the dark furtively. I have a part of my behavior that is closed. The black curtain has been drawn on how other people see me and how I present myself to others.’”

I eventually found my most intense, satisfying and secretive sexual experiences in Craigslist’s Erotic Services, where I took what seemed like a short jump from having lots of anonymous sex for free to having lots of anonymous sex and getting paid for it. I just switched sections and threw in some cutesy puns about “tuition money” and “oral reports,” without really understanding how the dynamic of encounters fundamentally shifts when one participant is employed by another.  

The ease of use may well attract a breed of woman who would never have become sex workers any other way. Sarah says she would have found a way to sell sex with or without Craigslist's Erotic Services. But she also reads (to me at least) as traditionally attractive—slim with long honey-colored hair and an attractive face. For women who don’t (or think they don’t) fit that mold, the Internet offers the opportunity to cater directly to a specific audience: those seeking BBWs (“big beautiful women”) or “mature” women, for instance, or those who want to just dip a toe in with a foot fetish. Even for those who don't do to real-life prostitution, there are still opportunities to make money through your addiction—I’ve known girls who did phone sex, cam shows and virtual prostitution in online worlds like “Second Life.”

The truth is, I never would have stood on a corner or found an escort agency, but once I realized I could get paid for the behavior I was already engaging in for free, I fell deeply for online sex work. 

A lot of men wind up in sex addiction recovery for financial reasons; they lose all their money acting out with prostitutes and masseuses. For women, sex addiction can do the opposite because it can be so lucrative that it contributes to a cycle of reward that can be very difficult to get out of. The money is as addictive as the intense attention and the high-risk sex, and we use it to soothe feelings of unpleasantness or emptiness that come from our doing it in the first place.

When I first sampled the world of sex work, I was a broke college student, but I continued to dabble even while holding down a full-time job and making a respectable living. I would sneak out on my lunch break to turn tricks for money I didn’t really need. 

Because we are driven more by our addictions than financial incentives, sex-addicted sex workers make an already dangerous profession that much more dangerous—by keeping our activity, partner and location a secret, by not insisting on condoms and by not properly vetting clients. 

“You can’t manage your addiction intelligently,” says Sarah. “Most sex workers rely on regular clients because they’re businesswomen, but I never saw a guy more than once. That uniqueness got me high. And that’s what’s inherently dangerous; meeting strangers and locking yourself in a room with them and identifying yourself in a stigmatized way.” 

Many women also take the other tactic and use social media and online dating, two behaviors that on the surface are very normal and socially acceptable, in a compulsive manner. 

Sheri, 32, who has recently started attending a 12-step sex group and identifies as both a love and sex addict, tells me about a man she is seeing who admits that he is a sex addict and is not interested in getting help for it. She met him on OK Cupid. As she describes him, this man she is “dating,” I feel a strange tingle in my stomach. It goes away when she says that he has five children, but returns when she mentions that he sometimes gives her money. 

“What’s his name?” I ask her. She tells me.

“Does he really have five kids?”

“I was exaggerating. He has three.”

She describes what he looks like and a few other details, including his penchant for spitting on girls during sex. 

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