Written by: Joni Ogle, LCSW, CSAT
Do you find it exciting to exchange sexual texts with other people? The thrill of being naughty in the digital space gives you some high. Well, have you heard of sexting? If not, don't bother bringing out your dictionary, as it may not be in it. This is a portmanteau of two words; sex and texting. We can thank the tech-savvy generation for some of these neologistic words.
Now, here is where it gets very interesting. Some people will become addicted to sending sexually explicit material on digital devices. Please note sexting is not a diagnosable mental health condition. But, it may very well fall under sexual addiction and can seriously impact daily functioning.
So, what can you do if you are a sexting addict? Well, the simple answer would be to try and stop, right? But, like any other addiction, it is not that simple. Out of sheer will, you may be able to put down your phone for a day.
But, you will soon relapse when you start to miss the high that comes from sexting. Indeed, you may need addiction treatment at a rehabilitation center, whether in or outpatient. We will share some practical things you can do to rid yourself of the habit once and for all.
Understanding the Impact of Texting on Your Mental Health
Sexting is receiving more attention because younger people are starting to engage with the behavior. The habit can become dangerous at high levels. It can, for example, expose you to victimization, online grooming, and cyberbullying. But that's not all; there is also sextortion, which is another portmanteau.
The National Library of Medicine reports in the 2019 article, “Sexting, Mental Health, and Victimization Among Adolescents: A Literature Review,” that sexting became a word that found its way into the urban dictionary in 2005. It first came up in a Daily Telegraph report. What remains clear is the lack of consensus on the definition. Some people use it to describe sending of the sexual content of any type. Other narrower definitions restrict it to images only. Being a fairly recent phenomenon, there is still much room for research on sexting and mental health.
The International Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health report goes on to show that there are studies that link texting and cyberbullying. This could ultimately lead to social anxiety, depressive symptoms, and below-average well-being amongst adolescents.
Are we saying that all types of sexting are addictive or harmful? The answer is no. Indeed, many couples engage in it quite a bit. If you look at their smart devices, you may stumble across suggestive texts, videos, or pictures.
But, it is easy to cross the line by sending explicit messages to people who have not given consent to receive them. You could also be guilty of sending pornographic material, so it pays to be careful.
Why Is Sexting Becoming More Common?
Sexting is rising in popularity because it is so easy to do. Further, on your device, you are inconspicuous. It is not like having phone sex that anyone within the vicinity can end up hearing. There is also the restriction on time or place. You could be in bed, the office, or commuting and can still manage to send a quick sex text.
There is also the aspect of sexual gratification. The active participation in the process makes it more exciting. You can use it as a sexual outlet without having to meet the other party.
So, What Do You Need to Do to Stop Sexting?
At this point, you may still be wondering whether sexting can become an addiction. Well, think about it this way.
- It is an addiction if you repeatedly engage in the act because of the euphoria or high you get.
- If you go through withdrawal symptoms if you don't partake, that is another sign that you are heading for serious trouble.
- If sexting starts interfering with your productivity or routine, that is a sign of addiction. You cannot concentrate on your work because the urge to send flirty or dirty messages is too high.
- When you are spending what others would consider a large amount of time sexting, that is a red flag.
- If you start to hide what you are doing from others, there is a problem. Think about it like drug addicts or alcoholics who will hide their stash and consume it in secret.
- The number of people you sext seems to be rising. It no longer matters who you communicate with as long as you get high. Indeed, you even stop caring about whose images you are sharing.
If you tick off most of the points above, it is time to stop.
Seek Professional Help
You may find it laughable that we are taking sexting addiction so seriously. But, as we said, sexting addiction is no different from any other type. The same craving an alcoholic has to keep drinking is the same intensity sexting victims have to text.
Also, remember that the root cause of sexting may very well lie in sexual addiction. It becomes a compulsion, and the brain always has obsessive thoughts about doing it.
If you realize that this is happening to you, seek professional help. Addiction treatment centers offer mental health treatment for trauma, addiction, and overall mental well-being.
An approach to sexual addiction may incorporate several strategies. These include cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, group therapy, and dialectical behavioral therapy, all of which will assist in overcoming sexting.
Treating sexting addiction can be very challenging for one reason. There is easy access to the devices. It is not a resource-intensive addiction like alcohol or drugs. You must have money to buy the intoxicant.
But with sexting, all you need is your phone or laptop, which most people have. The addiction treatment center must also offer post-treatment support to avoid relapse. They will also call upon the support of close family members to help with the treatment journey. Support groups or accountability partners can also be critical in the healing process.
Think About Your Sexting Triggers and Avoid Them
Look at your sexting patterns. You may find a common denominator or trigger that you can avoid altogether.
For some people, it could be a case of boredom. Finding something more productive to fill your idle hours is a good idea. Exercise, pick up a hobby, read, watch a movie or even learn a new skill. The more you divert your time into something more useful, the less the urge to text. You probably grew up hearing the idiom … 'an idle mind is the devil's workshop.' Whether you subscribe to religion or not, the phrase still makes a lot of sense.
Many people would be guilty of finding sexting courage in intoxicants. Maybe you have sent a naughty or flirty message when a little drunk. But it is not an everyday occurrence, so that is fine.
But, if it is common for you to sext when high, cut back or stop the consumption of alcohol or drugs.
If you obsess about sexting when watching pornography, switch to Netflix or your favorite streaming service. You can spend that time watching a movie instead. There is research to show linkages between pornography and sexting among the younger demographics.
Lack of Sex
If you are at a consenting age but for some reason lack sex, the dry spells can trigger sexting. Now, we are not saying that you should go out there and have sex with just anyone. But sexual gratification can remove the need to sext.
If you have a partner you have not been paying attention to due to the sexting, it is time to rekindle the fire. That will give you a healthier outlet than sending nudes or sexy content to other people.
Clean Up Your Phone
This part may be hard for you. It is very much like an alcoholic pouring their drink of choice down the sink. Or a drug addict flushing down their stash. But tough times do call for harsh measures.
- Get ready to do some serious deleting. Go through the images and videos you have on your phone. Get rid of any that may trigger your craving to sext once again. Yes, hit the delete button and get rid of all of them.
- Go through your contact list and remove anyone you engage in the practice with. Think about it like cutting ties with people who do not contribute positively to your life.
- The third step is to remove any websites or apps that encourage your addiction.
- Stop taking your phone to the bedroom. Let that be a place for rest, peace, and sleep instead of typing away on your phone the whole night. Also, try to minimize access to your phone or tablet. This ties in with our point of getting something else to fill your time.
If you don't always have your phone in your hand, there will be less opportunity to engage in sexting. Indeed, set a challenge for yourself and work towards achieving it. You can, for instance, decide not to be on your phone after dinner. Make it clear to family and friends that that may not be the best time to reach you.
Put in the old-style house phone that you cannot text on. That way, in case of an emergency, they can still contact you.
Sexting addiction is real and can have a profound effect on your life. Take back control by seeking addiction treatment if you are a victim. Get the support of family and friends and try some of the strategies we have shared.
About the Author
Joni Ogle, LCSW, CSAT, Chief Executive Officer at The Heights Treatment has over 25 years of clinical experience, management, and leadership in working with adults and young adults suffering from addiction and trauma. She is a licensed clinical social worker and a certified sex addiction therapist with additional training in Recreational Therapy, Pia Mellody’s Post Induction Therapy, and Dr. Brene Brown’s The Daring Way Shame Resilience curriculum.