As a therapist specializing in the treatment of sexual disorders, I find that it’s important to keep abreast of new sexnologies and the ever-expanding digital sex lexicon. (In fact, let’s call it a sexicon.) Simply put, if I am to be effective as a therapist it is an absolute necessity that I fully understand what my clients are telling me. I need to “get it” when one of my clients looks at me and says: “Well, I was doing the J-Date thing and my wife didn’t know because I kept it totally virtual with sexts and iCU2. But then I scoped the Ashley Madison app and suddenly it was IRL all over the place. Now I’m a walking STD and I’ve got this cyberstalker chopping bunnies in my kitchen. Seriously, she’s posting and tweeting my sexts all over town and I am not ROTFL because my wife is catching on. She even wants to put a Net Nanny on my Droid.”
If you are relatively current with the sexicon, you probably figured out that my client is serially cheating on his wife, that he’s been doing it for quite some time, and so far his wife is not entirely clued in, though she is beginning to suspect that something is up. The question here is what else there is to decipher. For instance, my client has just told me that his pattern of ongoing infidelity began with him flirting on a Jewish dating site, but he was not meeting any of the women in person. Instead, he was sending sexualized text messages and engaging in sexualized video chat (probably with mutual masturbation) using a service designed specifically for this purpose. At some point he discovered or was told about a website/smartphone app geared toward married people looking to cheat. That’s when his behavior escalated to meeting women in person, which, once he started, he was doing that quite a lot. He has since contracted an STD (perhaps multiple STDs), which he may or may not have passed on to his wife. Additionally, one of the women he’s had sex with wants more from their relationship than he’s willing to give, and she’s currently doing an excellent impersonation of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. My client is now very worried that his wife will find out about his cheating, and that in fact she may already have an inkling, as evidenced by the fact that she’s asked to install a monitoring software on his smartphone.
Thankfully, not all of my clients pack this much of our current sexicon into just a few sentences. In fact, few of those over thirty do (thank goodness). Nevertheless, I can assure you that my clients, male and female alike, do explore just about every form of digital sexuality that exists at any given moment, and when they finally break down and decide to tell me about it they typically do so using the most current language. I suspect this is something that just about every therapist encounters at least occasionally, even if their practice does not focus on intimacy issues, sexual disorders, or sexual trauma. As such, it is important for all therapists to keep relatively current with the sexicon. To that end, I have provided below brief definitions of the most commonly encountered terms, pulled primarily from my recently released book Closer Together, Further Apart, coauthored with Dr. Jennifer Schneider. (A full listing would greatly exceed the space limitations of this blog, and it would also be impossible, as the sexicon changes almost by the moment.)
- Apps: Apps are software that can be downloaded onto smartphones and other digital devices. Apps can help users find a restaurant, play games, listen to music, access porn, find a sexual partner, etc.
- Adult Friend Finder App: These apps are “friend finders” in name only. In reality, they are used to facilitate casual and/or anonymous sexual hookups.
- Adam4Adam: This is an adult friend finder app used by gay men for both dating and casual sexual hookups.
- Ashley Madison: This is an adult friend finder website and app for married people looking to cheat.
- Bang With Friends: This app, popular with young adults, helps people determine which of their Facebook friends might be interested in no-strings-attached sex.
- Blendr: This is an adult friend finder app used by straight people for casual sexual hookups.
- Chatroulette: This is a video chat site that randomly pairs strangers for web-based interactions. The site is popular with online exhibitionists and voyeurs.
- Cyberstalking: This is the deliberate, repeated, and hostile use of digital technology to harm, frighten, or otherwise harass another person.
- FaceTime: This is a video chat service allowing one-to-one video calls between Apple users.
- Grindr: This is an adult friend finder app used by gay men for casual sexual hookups.
- Hookup Apps: This is another term for “adult friend finder” apps.
- iCU2: This is a video chat site often used for sexualized webcam exchanges.
- Instagram: This is a photo sharing service that lets users take pictures and share them on social media sites.
- IRL: This is digital shorthand for “in real life,” as in: Do you want to hook up IRL?
- Newsgroups: These are advanced electronic bulletin board systems. Newsgroups are not as popular as they once were, but they are still used to post illegal sexual content.
- Omegle: This is a video chat site that is often used for sexualized webcam exchanges.
- PNP: “PNP” is short for “party and play.” This designation is used on dating and hookup sites and apps to indicate a desire for drugs (usually meth or cocaine) paired with sex.
- PTP: “PTP” is short for “peer-to-peer” file sharing. This is a way for people to directly yet discreetly exchange files. Like newsgroups, PTP is less popular than it once was, but it is still used to exchange illegal content.
- PinkCupid: This is an adult friend finder app used by lesbian women for both dating and casual sexual hookups.
- Second Life: This is a popular “virtual world” that is often used for sexual gratification. Technically, Second Life is an online video game, but really it is an opportunity to create self-directed animated porn.
- Selfie: This is a digital self-snapshot, usually taken using the camera in one’s smartphone. Selfies are often sexual in nature. They are very easy to post onto social media sites and to share via text messaging.
- Sexnology: Technology used to generate or enhance sexual pleasure.
- Sexting: This is the sending of sexualized texts, often with an erotic image (usually a selfie) attached. Sexting is done to flirt, to titillate, to exhibit, and sometimes even to harass and denigrate.
- Skout: This is an adult friend finder app used by straight people for casual sexual hookups.
- Skype: This is a popular video chat service, sometimes used for sexual purposes.
- Snapchat: Snapchat is a photo-based social media site. It is becoming very popular with teens and young adults. Like other social media sites, photos can sometimes be sexual.
- Teledildonics: This refers to digitally-driven devices used for sexual stimulation. In other words, sexual implements that can be synced to onscreen pornography or even the actions of another live person.
- Tinder: This is an adult friend finder app used by straight people for casual sexual hookups. Most users are young adults.
- Webcam: This is a camera that is (usually) built into a computer, tablet, smartphone, or some other digital device. Webcams feed real-time imagery into digital networks, to be viewed by a person or people hooked into that particular network.
- Video Chat: Facilitated via webcams, video chat lets people see each other while they chat, sort of like the science fiction “video phone” of yesteryear.
- Virtual Sex: This refers to sex that occurs only online. Usually it refers to webcam sex (mutual masturbation through video chat). Additionally, there are numerous “virtual sex worlds,” like Second Life, in which users create avatars (digital versions of their idealized selves) and then guide those avatars through sexual activity.
Needless to say, the above list is incredibly incomplete, and there are always new terms to learn. (In fact, if there is some new term you are hearing that I left off this list, please comment that info back to me below.) Needless to say, despite my best efforts, I too can get caught off-guard on occasion. If this happens to you in the course of your therapeutic practice, I strongly suggest that you simply ask about the word or phrase and its specific meaning to your client. Otherwise you run the risk of that person sharing something incredibly important that you just plain miss. When a client of mine uses a term I’ve not heard before, I usually wait until there is a natural break in our discussion, and then I ask for clarification. Sometimes my question spurs an in-depth and much needed conversation. It is important for me to be humble in these situations, knowing that there are words and phrases meaningful and familiar to my clients that I may not know. If I try to look like I am “hip” and have it together as a therapist by pretending I know what they mean, it will not serve either one of us. It is equally important to not judge clients if and when they talk about their most intimate (and often shameful) experiences.
If you have a client who has opened up about his or her sex life and you find that you don’t feel comfortable with the subject, you may want to refer that patient to a different therapist, probably someone specializing in sexual issues. For clients dealing with sex and/or porn addiction, the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals and the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health are both excellent referral sources. For clients struggling to enjoy or to give themselves permission to embrace their sexuality (including fetishes, gender dysphoria, sexual orientation, and similar issues) the best place to look for an informed, local clinician is the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. A licensed UCLA MSW graduate and personal trainee of Dr. Patrick Carnes, he founded The Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles in 1995. He has developed clinical programs for The Ranch in Nunnelly, Tennessee, Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu, and the aforementioned Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles. He has also provided clinical multi-addiction training and behavioral health program development for the US military and numerous other treatment centers throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia.