It was an average Thursday night. I was sitting at home, minding my own business, when a college acquaintance—let’s call him Jake—texted me out of the blue. We exchange pleasantries, and all seemed innocent enough. It was only when Jake asked me to recall the time “we almost hooked up” that I realized this conversation was taking a turn for the worst. And then—yup—there it was, the clincher: the prestigious nude mirror selfie.
Aside for the fact that Jake and I have probably exchanged a total of seven words throughout our entire existence on earth, I was particularly surprised by his brazen act of attempted sexting since, a month earlier, a picture of him in nothing but a thong had made its way to isanyoneup.com—a website, for those unfamiliar, that exposes men and women’s private sexts. Oh yeah. And I happen to know that he has a girlfriend.
Being cheated on is always difficult, but I find it abundantly harder to cope with cheating that’s devoid of sex or any physical contact. Maybe it’s because of the intellectual implications; betrayals of this nature imply that your partner wasn’t just horny, but rather preferred the company of someone else to you. Meanwhile, physical adultery is almost always corporally justifiable: “We stopped having sex and she threw herself on me,” say, or “You were away, and I was drunk.” Sexting? Not so much. Personally, I’ve never been titillated by sexts—dick pics, steamy texts, or what have you. But it’s particularly this trend of sexting with strangers or near-strangers that belongs to a realm quite foreign to me. It brings to mind pimply, nerdy Internet trollers perpetually hiding behind chat rooms and comment boards, with little to no sexual history. The appearance and gait of the “predators” from To Catch A Predator come to mind. Which is why, when I’ve caught past boyfriends sexting behind my back, it has always preceded a breakup. It appears I can sympathize more with blatant assholes than I can with weird, creepy, inexplicable behavior.
Another thing that’s never really done it for me is porn, which actually may explain my distaste for sexting. Back in 2003, porn researcher Naomi Wolff wrote that porn is not increasingly objectifying women, as Andrea Dworkin had suspect it would, but rather killing men’s libidos. Having watched loads of overdramatized and overzealous porn, men find it harder to get aroused by ordinary sexual encounters with, you know, real life women. Mark Manson admitted in a recent Thought Catalog article to suffering from this problem — so much so that he renounced porn altogether in an attempt to reclaim his mojo. Then there’s the elusive Bernie, who audaciously implored girls to shave their pubes — a preference, he went on to explain, that years of watching porn has instilled in him. Perhaps in searching for newer, more exciting ways to get off, people have turned to sexting. But still, that doesn’t entirely explain why so many people will turn to sexting with strangers despite being in committed, sex-laden relationships.
Much like porn, sexting with strangers seems to provide a temporary, if instant gratification, borne more out of the instinctual id than the more conscious ego or superego. But then this begs the question: while it may be an instinctive impulse, what kind of physical gratification, really, do people get from sexting? It’s a question I’ve poured over for years now: What kind of sexual relief did sexting give my ex-boyfriends that I couldn’t provide them with? The entire act is laced with a Humbert Humbert-like quality—not in the whole child molester sense, but in the way that sexting leaves the recipient untouched and unscathed, like tidy little nymphets.
“Girlfriend-friendly” is not often used to describe the porn out there these days. In fact, most porn seems to satiate a thirst for the illicit or behind-closed-doors. More and more, it seems, people need a naughty, illicit element to their sex lives in order to get off. And sexting behind a partner’s back is obviously #trending.
When Jake sent me the nude selfie, it was the first time I had ever been on this side of the sext. No longer the cuckold, I began to see sexting less as a crass and malicious choice and more as a compulsion. Because honestly, what else could prompt a man whose balls troll the Internet in a tight thong to do this again, if not an addiction or compulsion? Similarly, what part of sending out lewd photos in a nonsecure fashion to strangers did Anthony Weiner think was a good idea? Brooklyn political activist Chris Owens chastised Weiner the other day for his arrogance that has led him, among other things, to run for mayor. But I would argue it’s not so much arrogance as it is an ability to compartmentalize—which, as it happens, many men who sext seem to have.
Cleary Jake was able to compartmentalize—to merely forget that this behavior has not worked out too well for him in the past—when he so judiciously sent me the nude selfie. Weiner, too, must have had a knack for compartmentalizing when he LIVE TWEETED his notorious crotch shot. For a member of congress to engage in such risky behavior, Weiner must have taken his public, political persona and briefly tossed it aside to make room for a naughty, furtive sexter. And just as he compartmentalized his life in order to make room for a shameless Internet perv, so too is he compartmentalizing right now in his decision to run for mayor. It seems he just can’t be bothered with his self-lacerating thoughts and self-destructive sexual impulses because, really, it can be so hard working through these issues, am I right Mr. Weiner? And it’s because of his crucial ability to compartmentalize that he can separate Weiner the sexter from Weiner the political figure and, in doing so, can possess the arrogance that Mr. Owens so astutely pointed to.