When Congressman Anthony Weiner’s sexual escapades emerged last month, they reignited the “Are all men perverts?” debate in the blogosphere.
For Ryan James*, a prominent urban professional, this scandal was more than a titillating headline: It was a page from his own life story. After he'd been married for just a few years, his wife discovered that he’d been doing similar things as Weiner: having explicit sexual discussions with virtual strangers over e-mail, participating in phone sex and, when the technology emerged, sexting. His wife filed for divorce, but even that hasn’t stopped him; the sexting continues.
As we all contemplate the congressman’s seemingly inexplicable actions, James, *not his real name, talked to More, in person and by telephone, about what goes on in the mind of a sex addict. An edited version of the interview follows.
More: Where do we even begin?
Ryan James: My behavior started off as innocent and harmless. I was enticed by porn from a young age; then I started getting addicted and using it as a substitute for real intimacy. What started as a curiosity changed into a substitute for what I really needed, which was one-on-one intimacy and a healthy, monogamous relationship.
More: How exactly did you go after sex online?
RJ: I used to have a separate e-mail account. I found ads online for other people looking for these virtual sexual relationships. I’d send a picture of myself sometimes. I’d have a sex dialogue in e-mail, phone chats, text messages. Women sent me explicit pictures, even if I didn't reciprocate.
I would discuss things with women that I was excited about. I liked to hear from a woman who was turned on by bisexual men. When I learned about transsexual porn, I was like, “What the fuck is that?” I developed a curiosity because it was very taboo.
More: Are you saying you discovered your bisexual side?
RJ: No. I’m definitely heterosexual. I just became curious to hear about taboo topics, but not participate. If it wasn't suggested to me in anonymous phone chat, I probably would've never had interest in any of these topics. It was fantasy, but you talked about it with others safely because it was anonymous.
More: Where else did you find these women to talk to?
RJ: Chat lines. Men pay by the minute to be on; for women it’s free. I spent money on this phone line. My wife never looked at my credit card bill. I sometimes spent $400 to $500 a month on this. I looked at it as an extension of porn. I had to raise the stakes and it became more exciting to hear someone’s voice talking to me. The phone line was safe. You didn’t have to leave your house and didn’t have to worry about your appearance. It was hot, but it was empty. I even met a lot of people on the phone line who I got to know and ended up meeting in person and dating before I got married. It was a very convenient way for a professional guy to meet people. Ironically, I gained a lot of confidence from doing this.
More: What did you talk about with these women?
RJ: A lot of it had to do with oral sex, role-playing or bi-curious fantasies. You can’t talk to your wife about this, but you can talk to a stranger about it. The Internet and chat lines and text messages have made it so much easier to indulge your fantasies. There is so much temptation out there, and I didn’t have the willpower. It cost me my marriage.
More: Some would say men who do this kind of thing hate women.
RJ: I’ve loved women my whole life. I don’t disrespect women. I’m a good guy and I loved being a husband.
More: When did it start?
RJ: Like I said, I was doing it before I got married. I think my wife knew that I looked at porn quite a bit. She came from a very conservative background and found it immoral, indecent behavior. I was a ladies’ man and had lots of girlfriends who were sexually crazy, but I picked a different kind of person as a wife and mother for my kids.