Dr. Keith Ablow: Why do men like Anthony Weiner keep sexting — even when it destroys their lives?

Former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner has been caught, again, sexting with a woman other than his wife Huma Abedin. She is Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide. This time, Weiner sexted a photo of himself, bare-chested and in briefs, obviously sexually excited, while lying beside his 4-year-old son.

Why would a man hazard explicitly texting a woman, again, when he has been caught before, costing himself his political future? Why would he do it with his son in bed with him?  Even if sexting is clearly, for such a man, understood as a compulsion, what are the possible roots of such a compulsion?

I don’t know Anthony Weiner, personally, and have not examined him.  My reflections here are general ones about any man in his predicament.

1. Texting and sexting are as addictive to millions of people as heroin.  I mean it.  Hence, the question about Anthony Weiner sending explicit material via text is not different than questions about why successful, married men would gamble away their homes or risk arrest and cerebrovascular accidents (strokes) by buying and inhaling lines of cocaine.

We are only now beginning to understand just how little restraint many people can exercise over electronically communicating in ways they should not, because technology literally (probably, in varying measures, both neurologically and psychologically) short-circuits their better judgment. 

I have testified in cases, for example, in which men who would never, in their wildest imaginations, even remotely consider handing out naked photos of themselves to anyone, send such photos to 15-year-old girls over the Internet. 

They do this seemingly without regard to the fact that those they are sexting could easily be (and sometimes are) middle-aged men or FBI agents posing as 15-year-old girls.  They take extreme risks because they are “high” on technology—literally intoxicated by it.

To some extent, by the way, most of us are.

2. No psychiatrist worth anything would dismiss the fact that any person who would take a photo of himself or herself, while sexually excited, lying next to his or her 4-year-old son, then send it to another adult (and, accidentally, via the Internet and the media, to hundreds of millions of people) might be a person with a history of having been violated, sexually, as a child. To be more specific, if an adult had been touched inappropriately in bed by a parent, then unwittingly staging a similar scene, and sharing it, would make a terrible kind of unconscious sense.  And, of course, a history of sexual abuse is one reason someone could become addicted to sex (or sexting), to begin with.

3. Marriage is, more often than we like to admit, a barren landscape, wherein outlets for sexual energy are rare or absent. The Internet provides such outlets to millions of married Americans, probably with less risk than in-person flirtations and actual affairs.  Anthony Weiner got caught—at least twice.  He’s a public figure, so we hear about it.  But, as a psychiatrist, I know at least a dozen married men and women who have also been caught, at least twice. They keep doing it because they don’t particularly want to end their marriages, and they don’t want to have actual affairs, but they don’t want to live entirely passionless lives.

Whatever is happening inside the mind of Anthony Weiner, it’s time for him to delve deeply into it, with the help of a therapist. The same could be said for millions of married, technology-addicted Americans, of course—whether their behavior reflects problems in their psyches, in their marriages, or both.

Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team. 

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