A number of recent articles have presented findings that link the use of social media to a variety of psychological problems including low self-esteem, social aggression and narcissistic personality disorder.
Recent generations have apparently become increasingly narcissistic and have made increasing use of social media like Facebook. The data show a correlation between Facebook use and narcissistic personality traits but the consensus seems to be that rather than causing young people to become narcissistic, social media provide a platform that enables their narcissism.
Social media and narcissism
I believe narcissism and sex addiction feed on one another. I agree with the view that narcissism is “deep-seated in fragile self-esteem or vulnerability to shame.” One research study looked at facebook users and the narcissistic traits of grandiose exhibitionism and entitlement/exploitiveness. They found that the higher the grandiosity/exhibitionism scores, the more friends on facebook, and the high scores on both traits correlated with being more likely to accept friend requests from strangers and more likely to seek but less likely to provide social support from others.
Not all narcissists become sex addicts, but those who already have fragile self-esteem and sexually compulsive tendencies are egged on by the aspects of the social media platform that encourages a focus on superficial appearance, and promotes risk, exhibitionism and voyeuristic tendencies.
Social media and sexual imagery
It is well documented that sexual acting out in the form of providing or viewing amateur pornographic videos and images in social media and texts is becoming increasingly common. In this sense social media promote the sexually addictive behavior of potential addicts by providing ready access to free sexual material. Everyone is the star of their own movie and looking like a porn star is not necessarily a bad image to project. The fact that sexual self-promotion has become normalized sets the stage for the addiction prone person to indulge in more of these kinds of fantasy experiences and for the star in the home-made video to escalate further in their exhibitionistic sexual behavior.
The decline of in-person relating
In people born from 1990 on, the preferred mode of communicating is texting. Their second choice is instant messaging, facebook or phone. Their last choice is face-to-face contact.
In contrast, the previous generation born 1980 to 1990, preferred face-to-face with texting second and phone third. Prior generations preferred face-to-face with phone second and E-mail third.
This trend away from “real” in-person relating parallels the explosion in internet porn use and addiction to porn and cybersex. The substituting of these distance encounters for real ones, especially where the person we encounter is a carefully curated image of a real person, supports the addict’s withdrawal from the real into the fantasy.
Social media as enabling relapse
Those already struggling with sex addiction are likely to find in Facebook and other social media, access to imagery that will end up paving the way to a relapse into their prior acting out behavior. Seeing a sexually arousing image in a social media context can lead to taking the next step to internet porn or to clicking on internet sites that provide sex chat, sexual hook-ups, prostitutes, or finding old acting-out partners.
What to do?
All of the above: narcissism, isolation, fixation on the superficial sexualized image, the withdrawal from real relating are very basic challenges facing sex addicts. And recovering sex addicts need to be careful and mindful in their use of social media.
The person who is not prone to sex addiction may not have a problem with the world of social media relating. And in fact many people would argue that social media are a wonderful way in which like-minded people are brought together as never before in ways that are not only useful but profoundly meaningful.
But a young person today and any person who is prone to losing themselves in the world of online communication should be made aware of the danger not only of losing a part of their real life to the internet but of being drawn into excessive or risky sexual behavior as well.