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August Sex Talk
Last month I posted this blog on sexting which was to be the topic for July’s SEX TALK. Unfortunately ten minutes into my intro, right as I was disclosing some very uncensored personal stories (the kind that fire up an inner voice saying to “reel it in”), dozens of instant messages popped up on my screen saying that no one could hear me. Collectively we began troubleshooting without success. Our back and forth instant messaging continued after the website’s tech person took over. I was amazed at how many people stuck around through this mayhem. Eventually I got back into the main video box to say good-bye and pantomime “We’ll talk about “sexting” next month” (Try to pantomime that one!). A final message appeared on my screen as I was signing off. “I was really looking forward to this meeting but it’s kind of perfect that we spent the hour texting about sexting.”

Due to technical difficulties in July we’ll be revisiting “Sexting to Fill the Void” this Sunday August 7th at 9pm on SEX TALK.

Readers of a certain age may be asking themselves “What’s Sexting?”. It’s the 21st century version of spin the bottle or strip poker but with higher stakes. By sending sexually provocative text messages or sexually explicit self-images, sexual intrigue moves to the forefront of a conversation with immediacy. In most cases it’s replaced flirting as a seduction technique. The main difference between sexting and strip poker is that you don’t even have to be part of the game to experience it. More than once I’ve gotten dick pics mistakenly sent out as a group text and I’ve seen numerous pornographic images of men and women who obviously never questioned what would become of these photos when they hit “send” on their phone.

This past year numerous articles have been written about teenagers (young women mostly) who’ve committed suicide after nude photos they’d sexted someone were shared on social media. It got me thinking about how often impulsive behavior overrides weighing out big-picture consequences. This impulsiveness is a common characteristic of addiction. The conversations we’ve had on SEX TALK have taught me that it’s much harder for people in recovery to discuss negative consequences connected to their sexual behavior than it is to admit emotional pain from almost all other sources. Not to be glib but sexting seems too easy and seductive for addicts in recovery to resist – it’s impulsive; there’s excitement, daring and some risk; it’s accessible 24/7; it’s void of emotional intimacy; it’s a way for someone looking for sex to weed out non-contenders; it’s a way to get off without having to participate in real sex; and it’s a way to hide behind a mask that feels empowering.

I began wondering how people in recovery dealt with the emotional consequences or negative fallout from sexting – since as a subject it’s stayed off the radar. Obviously where there’s opportunity for pain there’s also often opportunity for pleasure so – to be clear – I’m not judging sexting in a moral context. From a recovery standpoint bringing this conversation into the light serves as relapse prevention since undisclosed pain is usually coupled with shame.

A few weeks ago a friend told me about a guy she met at the gym. After being stuck for months in the unrelenting feelings of grief from a recent break-up, this chance meeting filled her with the hope of possibility. She forwarded me a face photo shortly after their initial meeting. I asked how things were going with the new guy a few weeks later when we met for lunch. She said they’d gotten into the habit of nightly texting because their schedules hadn’t aligned yet for a first date. Almost immediately their texts became playful and sexy – which she was down for because it re-awakened her mojo. When dick pics started turning up on her phone she was surprised but didn’t discourage him. My friend then reached across the table, placed her cell next to my plate and began scrolling through all the photos he’d sent – each photo more explicit than the last until we came to the money shot. It was like a male ejaculation flip book. I was stuck for an appropriate response so I stared at her phone nodding, my mouth full of pasta. She explained that the playfulness of their sexy banter was exciting but somehow she failed to notice that sexting had replaced their “getting to know you” texts. At this point in our conversation tears began welling up in her eyes. She added that when they finally met up in person the space between them was filled with awkward silence and sexual tension. She’d been interested in getting to know this man but because of their sexting this date turned out to be nothing more than a hook up. She was devastated but not surprised when she didn’t hear from him again – devastated not because she’d an emotional investment in the new guy (because she didn’t) but because his texts had been filling a void which now felt even bigger.

As a woman in her 40s, she didn’t consider sexting as anything more than sexy playful banter and assumed if they had a connection in real life emotional intimacy would follow. Naively when she impulsively sexted back she had no idea she was signing off on the emotional intimacy she craved nor was she aware of how dependent she’d become on evenings of texting as a way to avoid experiencing the grief of heartbreak and her fear of change. Fixed by fantasy and distraction, she also failed to recognize the need for self-care when she was in HALT.

This story is just one person’s sexting experience. Please join me this Sunday at 9pm for SEX TALK and let’s get this conversation started by sharing your experiences with sexting – the pros and cons.

SEX TALK is an open forum where we talk about sex in recovery. If sexting isn’t your experience feel free to steer the conversation toward issues that do concern you.

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Patty is a nationally recognized certified recovery coach and writer. She lives in New York City.

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