I have written extensively about the intersection of technology and sexual addiction, examining the topic in blogs here and here, and in the upcoming book (Summer 2013) “Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effects of Digital Technology on Sex, Relationships, and Intimacy.” Because of that, I was hoping to take a time out from all the “sexnology” writing, but the recently concluded International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas has pushed me toward this all-too-familiar topic yet again.
By most accounts, this year’s CES was a bit of a snooze-fest. Several major players (Apple and Google among them) stayed away entirely, though plenty of smaller vendors were busy hawking Apple and Google related devices. The general consensus seems to be that this year’s CES fell short of past years in terms of completely new technologies to see, enjoy, and make plans to buy. Instead, vendors presented a lot of enhancements and tweaks to existing technology.
Men and women typically experience sex – both fantasy and reality – in different ways. It has long been known that when it comes to sex men tend to be visually oriented, whereas women tend to be more interested in a connection or relationship. Basically, when a man sexually admires a woman, he is usually focused on certain body parts and their potential use for him (as sexual objects). When viewing pornography, for instance, males are typically most aroused by a rapid-fire succession of images depicting concrete sexual acts and/or specific sexual body parts. Females on the other hand tend to be most aroused by sexual imagery that includes or at least infers some type of emotional connection.
Time Off + Gifts + Shopping + Expectations + Family = The Need for Solid Recovery
For men and women who suffer from sex and/or love addiction, the holidays present the following dangerous combination:
In essence, heightened emotions related to difficult family dynamics and numerous other factors make the season a more stressful than usual period, and this can feed into the chronic, progressive disease of addiction. Active addicts often experience escalation in this timeframe. Even addicts firmly grounded in recovery can revert to old patterns, especially if they stop attending their 12-step support groups, reaching out to supportive friends and family, and actively working their program of recovery.
Stepping It Up in Treatment
Sex addicts, like many in early addiction recovery, are often highly resistant to the idea of attending 12-step recovery meetings. Their reasons are myriad and usually without merit, though they sure can sound convincing on first listen.
Basically, it boils down to this: individuals who hang out in adult bookstores, cruise local red light districts looking for prostitutes, download hard-core pornography on work computers and masturbate in their office during business hours, post hi-definition photographs of their exposed genitalia on dating websites, and openly announce their extramarital availability on Ashley Madison (with a face photo but without a second thought) are the same folks who become very concerned about being “spotted” at one of “those” meetings.
“What if someone sees me there and thinks I’m a pervert?” they fret. Never mind the fact that these meetings usually take place in churches, school classrooms and local businesses after hours with no neon signs announcing what’s going on. Resistance to change is what it is, and even though sex addicts invite risk when acting out, they are risk averse in terms of being seen in 12-step sexual recovery meetings like SAA, SLAA, SCA, SA, and SRA.
It is therefore up to the addiction therapist, when working with a 12-step-averse client, to bring the themes, neurobiological rewiring, and experience of 12-step recovery into the treatment arena—especially in a group therapy setting. Once the sexual behavior problem has been clearly assessed and client/treatment goals and expectations aligned, sex addiction treatment is well served by the therapist initiating discussions on themes like surrender, feeling out-of-control/powerlessness, developing personal integrity, asking for help, accepting responsibility, turning it over, establishing accountability, etc., all within the framework of cognitive behavioral treatment.
No Strings Attached
It’s likely that even before humans had permanent dwellings or owned property, men and women were seeking out anonymous sexual hook-ups – no strings attached (NSA) encounters to get off, get out, and get on with their day.
Until recently, gay men sought such encounters in public parks, restrooms and bathhouses, while straight men found them in singles bars, strip clubs, swingers clubs and brothels. Today, the Internet, social media, and the related proliferation of sex-locater smart-phone apps have rapidly, drastically, and permanently altered the anonymous sex landscape. And considering humanity’s spotty track record with impulsive and addictive pleasure seeking, the horizon is darkening in relation to sexual addiction, sexual compulsivity, anonymous infidelity and disease transmission as people mindlessly, albeit briefly, place their health and intimate lives in the hands of complete strangers.
Today’s geo-located, readily accessible anonymous sexual encounters, while intoxicating play for some, are already taking their toll on others, leading them into health, career, and relationship crises.
There is never a dull moment in the sex-nology industry. If you don’t like what you see (or feel), just wait a few months and someone will invent a gadget or program to suit your every sexual taste and desire.
In addition to their sex-partner-seeking, geo-location abilities, smart phones are among the latest gadgets revolutionizing the rapidly evolving world of virtual sexuality. Just as video sales in the 80s, cable and satellite TV in the 90s, and Internet growth over the past decade have been in part fueled by porn, the sex industry is now actively involved in smart phone-based virtual sex!
Electronic hardware and software companies are also working together to evolve virtual male sex toys, some of which were shown at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show. Without doubt there is a highly charged technological race toward making virtual sex more like the real deal – then finding the best way to market, sell and profit from what can be considered an entirely new world of “personal products.”
Think of the following in terms of the “Triple A Engine”: Access, Affordability, Anonymity…
Sex addiction access from the beginning of time – Pre-history to 1900 consisted of cave art, affairs and infidelity, prostitution and harems to compulsive masturbation to fantasy. Now add in porn shops, strip clubs, magazines and photos, and porn movie theaters which evolved dramatically from the 1900’s to the 60’s.
Following were the late 70’s to 1990, where new technology was invented such as video (VCR and BETA) – AND, it’s when phone sex became mainstream.
Then in 1990 to 2004, we began to see Bulletin Board Systems, websites, online porn, chat rooms, and online hook-ups. From 2004 to the present, much has evolved at a steady pace – sexting, smart phones with GPS locators, social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), 3-D imagery, and VirtualWorld sex. Clearly escalation in sex addiction is being fueled by exponential technology growth – which is only just beginning in the move towards virtual sex…
Until very recently, the ready capacity to find completely anonymous sexual partners, willing to hook-up for sex without any kind of relationship connection, was mainly the dubious privilege of gay men, rather than most heterosexuals. While straight men have always been able to hire prostitutes, go to strip clubs and hit on women met in bars and clubs, these were either paid anonymous experiences or ones that left the straight casual sex seeker at risk of either being rejected or of being asked for an unwanted, longer-term connection to extend beyond the sexual act itself.
Outside of early adult experimentation and the occasional bachelorette party, healthy women most often want some degree of conversation and relational connection prior to sex or at least after –“buy me a drink,” “let’s go to a movie first,” “when can we meet again,” etc. This issue has been the key stumbling block for those straight men seeking anonymous sex with women.
Gay men on the other hand, because their sexual partner choice was male and men in general are wired to have an easier time being sexual outside of relatedness than most women, have nearly always been able to hook-up with anonymous sex partners found in parks, bathhouses, sex-clubs and tea-rooms without having to first buy them a drink, take them to dinner, pay for the sex act or even hold a conversation. This was the essence of gay cruising.
Looking beyond the sad mess of Former Congressman Weiner’s recent sexting scandal, today’s as yet under-the-radar, but evolving sexnologies are about to make texing nudie pics to strangers as old-school as focusing a 35-mm camera.
Last fall while researching the effect of social network and smart-phone technologies on sexual addiction, I came across what appear to be some of the first products specifically designed and mass-produced for purchasers to engage in virtual sex. Called Teledildonics, these white plastic gadgets are described by the manufacturer as “hardware components that can, when hooked up the Wii platform, allow remote partners to simultaneously enjoy each others physical stimulations.”