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Can you be addicted to sexting? Considering the case of Anthony Weiner

Former New York congressman Anthony Weiner on the second day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 26, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania holding his cellphone.
Former New York congressman Anthony Weiner on the second day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 26, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania holding his cellphone. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

With news of former congressman Anthony Weiner’s latest sexual indiscretions, many outlets (from Mashable to The Wrap) have questioned if the former politician and father is addicted to sending sexually explicit photos and messages to women through his phone.

This is the third time in the last five years Weiner has been caught sexting someone other than his wife. His actions have resulted in not only bad press, but also loss of work and, most recently, the loss of his wife (Huma Abedin announced Monday she is leaving him).

He seems to be struggling with some classic signs of addiction, at least if you go by the definition crafted by the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

READ MORE: Online porn, sexting should be included in sex ed. curriculum, Alberta professor says

And though that may be the case, the American Psychiatric Association (APA), while it recognizes thousands of mental disorders from sitophilia (sexual arousal from food) to celebriphilia (a pathological desire to have sex with a celebrity), does not recognize sexting as an actual addiction.

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The reason? There’s little concrete evidence to suggest it is.

According to the Washington Post, no one has been able to prove obsessive sexting is linked to specific neurological patterns or disorders. Many studies, as cited by The Atlantic, have even suggested compulsive behaviours are tied to other larger issues like narcissism or self-destructive tendencies.

Sexologist Dr. Jessica O’Reilly agrees. She tells Global News: “I doubt that (sexting) would be recognized as an addiction… [It] isn’t clearly defined and it’s not a diagnosis.”

She believes throwing labels like “sexual addiction” around reduces personal accountability, too.

“In Anthony Weiner’s case it’s more likely that he simply doesn’t want to be monogamous,” she says. “But if Weiner wants to stay in a monogamous relationship then he definitely needs help in terms of looking at being less impulsive and controlling those impulses.”

O’Reilly adds that many associate sexting with illicit actions like cheating, but one doesn’t always beget the other.

“People think that sexting will lead to all these new problems but these [issues] really are just new versions of existing problems,” she says. “Cheating is something that has always happened, but now we have new ways to seek out that cheating. And while people like to think that things are getting worse, there’s no evidence to support the case.”

READ MORE: Are you lying to yourself about how much sex you need in your relationship?

And even though many associate sexting with negative connotations (as is the case with Weiner), it could actually be a very positive thing for adult relationships who consent to it as a couple, says O’Reilly.

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“It’s good for the sex life and is positively correlated with relationship and sexual satisfaction and improves communication,” O’Reilly says. “Texting is our number one method to communicate with people now. There’s nothing special about it and it makes sense that the realm of sex has made its way into texting as well.”

According to a 2015 poll by the APA, 80 per cent of adults between 18 and 82 years of age reported sexting within the past year. Nearly 75 per cent said they sexted their partner whom they were in a relationship with. Researchers also found that greater levels of sexting were associated with greater sexual satisfaction, especially for those in relationships.