Weiner, Virtual Sex and Reality

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Congressman Anthony Weiner, with all his experience running campaigns and crafting legislation, may not have accounted for the way the Internet can seduce adults into behavior that threatens marriages and careers.

Reaching out to others on the Information Superhighway from behind a keyboard is a little bit like driving the highways in a car with darkened windows. You might be tempted while driving to break the law and speed, or to let your temper flare and erupt in road rage, in ways you never would at a social gathering. You are, in some measure, made anonymous by the fact technology (in this example, a car) is the depersonalized route through which you are expressing yourself.

Similarly, but probably much more so, people using technology to “connect” with others can end up losing their normal inhibitions and expressing their anger, rage and, yes, sexuality in hyperbolic ways. Road rage and Cybersex are, in this way, close cousins.

Technology can tap our deepest emotions, including sexual passion, even when our consciences dictate that we should resist. It is like virtual cocaine or Ecstasy—two recreational drugs that artificially lower the inhibitions of many users.

Anthony Weiner is a liar who tried to cover up his behavior and do damage to the reputation of journalists in the process. While I have not examined him, he appears to be characterologically disordered. But, that aside, should Anthony Weiner’s wife consider the seductive effects of computers, social media and the Internet when she tries to understand her husband’s behavior? I believe she should.

Because of the anonymous “interface” through which sexting occurs—keyboards and computer screens and webcams—many, many people will engage in virtual sex (sharing erotic comments and even photos) who would never, ever consider uttering sexual comments at a real-life social gathering.

What’s more, many men and women are ill-equipped to deal with the onslaught of opportunity for quick, easy romance that streams to them via the Web. Our emotional defenses have not kept pace with the rapidity at which technology has evolved. No one can say how most married people would fare at maintaining their vows were they literally inundated at party after party with attractive, glib men and women approaching them for liaisons beyond site and earshot of those gathered. The Internet makes that world seem like reality.

Sexting and other forms of virtual sex are not the same as real-life sex, any more than Facebook friends are people you could call for a loan or for a ride to the hospital when you are ill. Virtual lovers are generated by and sustained by a Web of technology. In Anthony Weiner’s life they may well have never represented anything like a real threat to his affections for his wife, never remotely a competitor for his real heart.

Voters should, in this psychiatrist’s opinion, hold Anthony Weiner in contempt for lying to them about his actions. That duplicity was revealing of deep character. Sexting and virtual sex is not revealing of deep character—any more than yelling an obscenity at someone while driving in traffic means you are going to assault someone in your front yard.

Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team. Dr. Ablow can be reached at info@keithablow.com. His team of Life Coaches can be reached at lifecoach@keithablow.com.