For many of us, digital information gathering and online interaction have become integrated into our daily routine from the first multitasking moments. We check email, tweet and text, update Facebook, and simultaneously peruse “newspapers” from all over the globe, all while draining the morning coffee. And we do all of this on faster, more sophisticated, more portable and affordable electronic devices than ever before.
This incredible array of sophisticated interconnectivity provides endless new opportunities to support our very traditional human needs for community and social interaction. Innovations like Facebook, with over 500 million users, and Twitter, with over 300 million users, offer real-time interactions with an increasingly wider and more diverse group of people.
Friends and family who may have been too distant for regular contact just a few years ago can now be intimately folded into our lives. For partners, spouses and families separated for long periods of time by work or military service, the tech-connect boom is a godsend. Couples are now able to bond long-distance in real time, share a growing child’s latest milestone, and even engage in visual intimacy via the webcams now routinely incorporated into computers and smart-phones.
Those not yet in a committed relationship can put technology to good use when home or traveling via e-dating—establishing and growing budding relationships with a decreasing focus on who lives where. We make friends, we share and grow from our experiences, we celebrate, and we commiserate—one world, a growing interactive community.
One downside of the tech-connect boom is that whenever human access to intensely pleasurable and arousing substances, like cocaine and crystal meth, previously rare treats, like refined sugar and sweets (now on sale at every gas station), or experiences, like gambling and sex, is increased, the potential for impulsivity, compulsivity, and addiction rears its ugly head.
Will I Go Blind?
Of all the types of sexual acting out, compulsive masturbation, with or without pornography, is the most secretive and isolating—and also the most common (in both men and women). Because many individuals view sexual self-stimulation as shameful, dirty, or sinful, those who engage in the practice compulsively are unlikely to discuss it with others, even a therapist.
If and when a compulsive masturbator does seek help, he or she is unlikely to do so for his/her sexual acting out. Instead, that individual is far more likely to report anxiety, depression, feelings of loneliness and isolation, and the inability (or lack of desire) to form intimate relationships with other people.
Some people who masturbate compulsively do so as part of their daily routine. These are “morning, noon and night” people who masturbate on a regular schedule, almost like clockwork—when they wake up, before they go to bed, when they’re in a particular place, when some “thing” happens, or when they experience a certain (usually uncomfortable) feeling.
Other individuals are binge masturbators, “losing themselves” for hours or even days at a time, sometimes continuing to masturbate even after physically injuring their genitalia. Binge masturbation is occasionally accompanied by illicit drug use, usually stimulants like cocaine or crystal meth.
Binge masturbators can lock themselves in their home or a motel room for days on end, losing all track of time and life in the real world.
Sexual Addiction… in Progress
The recently released film Girl in Progress is on the surface a coming of age story about Ansiedad, a sixteen-year-old girl who develops a plan—based on the clichés of young adult literature—for growing up quickly. A more interesting character in the film is the girl’s mother, Grace, portrayed by Eva Mendez.
On the one hand, Grace is an immigrant single mom trying desperately to make her way in the world while providing for an ungrateful daughter. On the other hand, she’s an archetype for sexual and romantic addiction among women, looking for love in all the wrong places, at all the wrong times, with all the wrong men, despite the emotional and psychological damage this behavior causes to both her and her daughter.
Though Girl in Progress is not likely to become a cornerstone of modern American cinema (early reviews have been mixed, at best), it at least serves as a reminder that sexual addiction is not an entirely male phenomenon, even though media portrayals of sexual addiction focus almost exclusively on men.
The fact is, between 8 and 12 percent of those currently seeking treatment for sexual addiction are women, and we are likely to see those numbers increase as clinicians gain diagnostic clarity.
Just Go to a Meeting!
Sex addicts, like many individuals in early recovery, are often highly resistant to the idea of attending 12-step meetings. And, like all addicts, they often have clever and insightful but typically unproductive reasons for not going.
Some examples include: “That’s where the really sick people go, right, not people like me?” or “I can’t talk openly to a bunch of strangers. What will they think of me?” or “What if someone sees me there and tells someone I know?”
And it’s not like the urban or online sex addict is limited in terms of sex and relationship addiction 12-step meetings, as today numerous groups can be found both in-vivo on and the Internet—each with a slightly different focus and population (SA, SLAA, SCA, SRA, SAA, etc.). Yet for a variety of reasons, mainly fear of the unknown, attending therapy often seems a more palatable option than going to a 12-step recovery meeting. So be it.
Mark is a married, 35-year-old realtor. His wife, Janet, is a pharmaceutical sales rep who spends several days each week on the road. Both report that their sex life was great until just a few years ago, and Mark is not sure what happened. He used to look forward to the days Janet was home because he knew the first thing they were going to do was hop in bed and make passionate love. Even after the birth of their first child, the two always made time late evenings and weekend mornings for lovemaking. But no longer. These days when being sexual with Janet, Mark struggles to reach orgasm. He’s even started faking orgasms, just to get things over with. What Mark can’t understand is why he’s ready, willing, and able when he logs on to his favorite porn sites—something he does regularly when Janet is on the road—but he can’t function when he’s got the real thing right there in front of him. Mark is quite clear in saying he is not “bored” with his wife, and he continues to find her “sexy, exciting, and arousing.”
Is Porn Ruining Sex?
Mark is suffering from Delayed Ejaculation (DE), a problem that is more common than most people realize. Symptoms of DE include: taking longer than normal to reach orgasm; only being able to reach orgasm via masturbation; and not being able to reach orgasm at all. At first Mark didn’t mind because “lasting longer” is generally viewed as a sign of virility. He chalked it up to maturing as a lover, thinking he was now better at pleasing Janet. Unfortunately, as he and many others have discovered, there really is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
As with all sexual dysfunctions, there are numerous possible causes of DE, including: physical illness/impairment; the use of SSRI-based antidepressants, which are known to delay and in many cases eliminate orgasm; psychological factors with stressors like financial worries or family dysfunction—all of which can mentally distract men during intercourse. But one increasingly documented cause of both delayed ejaculation and erectile dysfunction is an over-involvement with—for some, addiction to—pornography and masturbation as a primary sexual outlet. This seems the most likely culprit for otherwise healthy men in the prime of life such as Mark.