On Monday, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) announced he had tweeted to the world a lewd photo of himself he had meant to send to one woman privately.
For many, the reaction to Weiner's lewd photo texts has been disgust and bewilderment. But the phenomenon is more common than you may think. Even the AARP has covered the trend, with the headline: "Sexting Not Just for Kids."
"Absolutely," says relationship coach Suzanne Blake. "Many married couples do this [with each other]. People are working different shifts, they're traveling, they're stressed, they don't get to see each other a lot. So it's a playful way of keeping connected."
But of course, just about every good thing about the Internet seems to have a downside risk.
"What texting does is allow you to get this immediate validation, or fix," says Eli Karam, a marriage therapist at the University of Louisville. "You send a picture, you get an immediate response, and you don't have to deal with any face-to-face interaction."
Thus, the ease and attraction of sexting with complete strangers.
Is It Cheating?
At his news conference, Weiner stressed that he'd had no physical relationship outside his marriage. So, is this cheating?
"I say a relationship is a relationship, whether you touch that person or not," Karam says.
In fact, he says research shows this kind of virtual, or "emotional infidelity," can be just as harmful as a physical fling.
Blake says it's true that sexting may not feel as wrong as meeting someone in a hotel. She cites the experience of one female client:
"It happened several times where she'd been on a business trip, she met somebody, and then they exchanged sexting afterwards," Blake says. "And she is married. I had to actually say to her, 'Do you realize this is cheating?' "
Even when committed couples are zinging photos back and forth, Blake offers words of caution. One client, a 55-year-old woman, was sexting happily with a boyfriend who traveled a lot, sending photos with messages like, "Missing seeing you." Then the woman had a problem with her cellphone and took it to a store for help.
"When she tried to show the technician what was happening," Blake says, "this body part showed up on her screen. It was very embarrassing to her!"
Blake's advice, for ordinary sexters and high-profile politicians alike: delete, delete, delete.