In what’s being calling “breaking news” this week, Representative Anthony D. Weiner has confessed to online sexual communications with a woman other than his wife. He is, one of many men in the public eye whom have been caught sending provocative pictures, texts, webcams and video engaging in what I call sex on the download otherwise known as online sexual behaviors.
The frequency of such events raises the question of what is the appeal of sex on the download when you are a high profile person?
Of course the answer is different for everyone, but there are some common factors at play here for most men.
High profile lifestyles are often chosen by people who seek admiration and in turn feel empowered by the recognition they receive. For some, this need for attention is insatiable; they attempted to fill the void by living a public life and receiving as much attention as they can.
The attention and recognition makes them feel important and valued, but for some, the hunger is never fully satisfied. It’s at that point that they turn to sex as a means of getting recognition.
Sexual play, whether online or in reality, is a way men can gain recognition on a more personal level. Whether it’s by soliciting praise about their body or accolades about their “abilities in bed” when a man is engaged in sex on the download he achieves a momentary boost to his esteem. It is always a false sense of value but to him, in the moment it feels very real.
Sex on the download also establishes a pseudo-connection with anonymous people. The connection feels intense even though it isn’t real. One never has to worry about being vulnerable. People on the Internet cannot hurt you nor reject you as much as the real people can and do.
Additionally there is the invincible belief they will not be caught. Much of this belief comes from narcissism. Those who have a narcissistic personality, or have strong narcissistic traits, often do not accept responsibility for their actions. They blame others for their bad behaviors, accept responsibility for their good behaviors and feel they are above the law and any other negative consequences.
They also don’t consider how their actions will affect others. Men in this mental state engage the Teflon technique into their thinking and belief systems. They think that by denying their own part in the creation, action or outcome of the problem, that the accountability will “slide off” them like Teflon and leave them unblemished. When in reality, their narcissism impedes their ability to accept responsibility and feel the empathy for those they have harmed. It’s the old Eddie Murphy joke of “wasn’t me” that they try to push on to others in the hopes of maintaining their own narcissistic house of cards.
What are the reasons these men engage in their sexual acting out behaviors?
Hard as it is to believe, the truth is that many men—and women as well—who seek online sex and sexual connection never meet or have any intention of meeting at all. The thrill is not in the actual hooking up, but in the chase!
Often people accuse those discovered in online sexual behaviors of actually meeting someone in person. This is just not always true. Looking at sexual hookup sites evidences this and reading the profiles, which frequently read, “Please no endless emails” and “Enough with the fakes who say they will meet and never show”.
Fear, risk and danger makes this a thrill and enticing making it another reason men engage in sex on the download. The anonymity and danger of being discovered of the online sexual behavior causes chemical changes in the brain, which promote a mood- and mind-altering experience.
In the presence of these three elements together, a host of natural chemicals are released such as endorphins and adrenaline giving a person a sexual high. Then there's a natural drug in our bodies called phenylethylamine or PEA for short. It's an essential chemical for those who are drawn to inherently risky behaviors like gambling, shoplifting, and sex.
Why do we constantly see people falling into this trap?
The reality is that these high profile men are doing what many men are doing online. The numbers of sex on the download are growing because of the Triple A engine coined by the late Al Cooper—Affordability, Anonymity, and Availability. Reaching out to another person and having anonymous sex virtually is only a click away and available 24/7. Inherently there is nothing wrong with this if used responsibly. It isn’t viewed as cheating by these men because they are not actually engaging in physical contact with those they are virtually connected.
High profile people are given a false sense of power and insulation. They think that even if they are caught they will be granted special privileges because of the level they are at. Because they are already treated differently than the rest of society, they don't believe that they will experience the same consequences as the common person.
Perhaps the biggest problem of all is how judgmental and shaming we are as a culture of these men when they are caught. Humiliating these men is not going to make this go away nor stop future men in high profile positions from doing this. Understanding, compassion and true listening are what these men need.