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What Draws People to Anonymous Sex (and the Apps that Help Them Find It)?

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.

People as Objects

Those who repeatedly pursue anonymous sex say they enjoy the feeling of being a sexual object and/or using others as sexual objects – without strings. They find freedom in experiencing sex without encumbrance, without having to maintain any commitment lasting longer than the sex act itself. This is especially true for those already in committed or marital relationships, men and women seeking quick and easy sex on the down-low. They revel in the fact that there is no need to buy someone a drink, go to dinner and a show, or pretend to write down a phone number.

Many who engage in anonymous sex don’t even bother to exchange names. And because there is no emotional or personal connection, many find it easier and emotionally safer to live out their sexual fantasies with strangers – believing these fantasies are too shameful or too embarrassing to share with an emotionally intimate partner.

One Man’s Story

Consider Jason, a 36-year-old married, hard-working, self-employed electrician. When Jason’s second child was born about a year ago, time alone with his wife changed from emotional intimacy and occasional sex to bathing babies and warming late-night bottles. A few months ago, after getting his first smart-phone, Jason discovered the apps for Ashley Madison and Blendr, setting up accounts on both and getting hooked immediately.

As Jason quickly learned, “friend finder” apps like Ashley Madison and Blendr are not designed to find friends, they’re designed to locate nearby anonymous sexual partners in much the same way as other apps help you to locate a nearby Italian restaurant. Log on to Blendr, for instance, and the interface instantly displays a grid of pictures of potential sex partners, helpfully arranged from nearest to farthest away.

Tapping on a picture displays a brief profile of that user, along with the option to chat, send pictures, or share your own location. For a sex addict, Blendr is crack cocaine.

Before long, Jason found himself spending more time searching for sexual hook-ups than managing his shop. Time formerly spent calling on good clients and making repairs was replaced with stop and go sexual hook-ups that took place wherever his phone apps led him. Needless to say, business suffered. Jason fell behind on his mortgage, credit card payments, and other bills.

He also started lying to his wife, telling her he was at work later than normal when in fact he was spending time with women he’d met online. Eventually, his wife checked his smart-phone, finding several nude pictures of her husband, dozens of pictures of nude women and text messages setting up more than thirty sexual encounters. In a fit of anger, she took the children and left. Today she is strongly considering divorce.

How Did I Get Here?

Sexually addicted clients report that when active in their addiction they somehow feel invulnerable, safe from the possibility of their compartmentalized, sexual secrets being discovered by a spouse, loved one, or boss. Think former US Congressman Anthony Weiner sexting anonymous women from the US Congressional gym, seemingly without thinking about how badly that could, and did, turn out for him.

Study after study shows that when sex addicted people are in pursuit of their drug or behavior of choice, they consistently experience this false sense of invincibility. The emotional and physiological pull of their addiction fosters a false sense of safety and denial.

Can Apps Fuel Sex Addiction?

For years now, online hook-up sites like Craigslist have fueled sexually compulsive behavior by providing ample opportunities for meeting, chatting up, and being sexual with strangers. On Ashley Madison, it doesn’t even matter if you’re married or in a committed relationship. In fact, the company slogan reads: “Life is Short, Have an Affair.” At last look, Ashley Madison had more than 12 million members, making it one of the world’s most popular and financially profitable websites/smart-phone apps. Ashley Madison has successfully monetized infidelity.

Where is This Heading?

Unfortunately for sex addicts, anonymous sexual encounters are part of a larger pattern of sexual acting out that eventually becomes their life priority, pushing aside partners, family, work, school and self-care. These individuals end up using sex to fulfill emotional needs and reduce emotional stress rather than relying on friends, family, and spouses as emotional support. They find themselves searching for anonymous encounters to the exclusion of all else, and living double lives to hide their sexual activity.

Without help, they destroy their relationships, ruin their credibility and repeatedly place themselves in physical danger. So while those engaging in anonymous sex may tout the freedom it brings, for some this freedom can lead to emotional imprisonment, shame, isolation, and loss. In truth, we have yet to see the full result of how these new freedoms and sexual access will impact our culture – but the initial results are not promising.


Robert Weiss PhD, MSW

Robert Weiss PhD, MSW is an expert in the treatment of adult intimacy disorders and related addictions, most notably sex/porn/relationship addictions along with co-occurring drug/sex addiction. A clinical sexologist and practicing psychotherapist, Dr. Rob frequently serves as a subject matter expert for major media outlets including CNN, HLN, MSNBC, OWN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and NPR, among others. Dr. Rob is the author of Prodependence: Moving Beyond Codependency, Out of the Doghouse, Sex Addiction 101, and Cruise Control, among other books. He blogs regularly for Psychology Today and Psych Central. His podcast, Sex, Love, & Addiction, is rated as a Top 10 Addiction Podcast for 2019. He also hosts a weekly live no cost Webinar with Q&A on SexandRelationshipHealing.com. A skilled clinical educator, Dr. Rob routinely provides training to therapists, hospitals, psychiatric organizations, and even the US military. Over the years, he has created and overseen nearly a dozen high-end addiction and mental health treatment facilities across the globe. For more information or to reach Dr. Rob, visit SeekingIntegrity.com. You can also follow him on Twitter (@RobWeissMSW), LinkedIn (Robert Weiss LCSW), and Facebook (Rob Weiss MSW).


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APA Reference
Weiss PhD, R. (2012). What Draws People to Anonymous Sex (and the Apps that Help Them Find It)?. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 18, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2012/03/anonymous-sex-apps/

 

Last updated: 6 Sep 2012
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