Carlos Danger is everywhere.
That's "Carlos Danger," the silly fake identity of Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former congressman who was caught up in another sexting scandal last week. Weiner, who resigned from Congress in 2011, seems determined to stay in politics this time, refusing to leave the race for New York Mayor. The tabloids are having a field day, but not everyone is laughing. According to those who treat sexual disorders, Weiner's latest sexting scandal touches on a growing problem for many Americans.
The number of people suffering from sexual disorders enabled by modern technology has increased, says Robert Weiss, a clinical social worker who works for Los Angeles-based Elements Behavioral Health. He laughed when asked whether the problem is getting worse.
"We have more than 150 clients a week now. We have six to eight therapists. Yes, it's worse." "I've been in the field of sex treatment since the early 1990s," Weiss said. "Then the internet came along and we went from a small boutique center to having lines out the door. We have more than 150 clients a week now. We have six to eight therapists. Yes, it's worse."
Has the internet accelerated the rate of sex addiction? While Weiner has denied being a sex addict, he laid the blame for his troubles on technology when speaking with The New York Times before the latest revelations. “You know, like spin the wheel! Find someone to say something to you!" Weiner told the paper. "And if it wasn’t 2011 and it didn’t exist, it’s not like I would have gone out cruising bars or something like that. It was just something that technology made possible and it became possible for me to do stupid things. I mean, the thing I did, and the damage that I did, not only hadn’t it been done before, but it wasn’t possible to do it before.”
"The internet came along and we went from a small boutique center to having lines out the door." There's no denying that gone are the days when someone seeking pornography or a sexual encounter had to drive to an adult bookstore or red-light district. Sexual gratification is easy to achieve in a world of porn and video-chat sites, social networks, and hook-up apps. And unfortunately for some, this easy access has unlocked a Pandora's box of obsessive behavior that can lead to unemployment, failed marriages, and even jail.
"Maybe 20 years ago, an individual wouldn’t have gotten involved with these types of problems for fear of the shame of being seen by others at an adult bookstore," said Dr. Rory Reid, a research psychologist at UCLA. "But now that risk is removed."
Skeptics will undoubtedly accuse Weiner and others like him of making excuses, claiming the only problem they suffer from is a weak moral compass. The American Psychiatric Association doesn't even recognize sex addiction as a diagnosable disorder. But those who study and treat sex disorders say rational people typically act in their own self interest. When people recklessly risk hard-won reputations, livelihoods, and their family's happiness, those behaviors are clear-cut signs of a disorder.
For some, the risk is actually part of the allure. The chance of getting caught supplies the adrenaline rush they seek, one of the things that gives them pleasure. For others, according to Weiss, porn or sexting are a way to escape anxiety, loneliness or depression.
"When I come home after a stressful day, I take a bath or work out," Weiss said. "These people look for something really distracting and exciting. They seek out intensity."
"It was just something that technology made possible."
How many irresponsible sexts does a person have to send — or how much money do they have to spend on web porn — to know they're hooked? Quantity isn't the measuring stick that treatment specialists use to determine addiction. Just like with alcoholics, therapists don't count drinks. They look at whether a person's interaction with booze is destroying their life. It works the same with sexting and porn.
Weiner was disgraced, lost his congressional seat, and needed to get clean. But after a hard-fought campaign to win back the trust of the media and public, it turns out he was actually sexting women around the same time he was telling People magazine he was a changed man. This kind of self-defeating behavior is typical with "hypersexual patients" said Reid. According to a study of 137 of these types of patients done by Reid and a group of colleagues, nearly 20 percent said that their sexual activities had cost them their job at least once. Just under 30 percent said it had broken up relationships, and nearly a quarter said they suffered financial setbacks.
"The world that's generating part of the problem doesn't want to generate any part of the solution." But fighting the problem first requires that society take it seriously — it's easy to laugh at Anthony Weiner, hiding from an already unfortunate last name under the guise of Carlos Danger. It's harder to gather support for tools and strategies that might keep people from falling down the same dark holes without book deals and the oddly supportive Huma Abedin to carry them forward.
Weiss said that he has struggled to generate interest in the sector about trying to do something to help solve the problems with sex addiction. "I can get hundreds of people to show up to hear me speak in Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, but I can't get an invitation in Silicon Valley because maybe the world that's generating part of the problem doesn't want to generate any part of the solution."