Has the Internet destroyed our sex lives?
It should be a glorious time for sex. So much of the stigma around premarital sex is gone that you’d think this would be a freewheeling time for unmarried young people.
In a study called “Sexual Economics, Culture, Men, and Modern Sexual Trends,” researchers Roy F. Baumeister and Kathleen D. Vohs note that sex has gotten far easier to get. “Back in 1960, it was difficult to get sex without getting married or at least engaged, and so men married early. To be sure, this required more than being willing to bend the knee, declare love, and offer a ring. To qualify as marriage material, a man had to have a job or at least a strong prospect of one (such as based on an imminent college degree). The man’s overarching goal of getting sex thus motivated him to become a respectable stakeholder contributing to society.”
How quaint. In 2018 the idea that a man must propose marriage or have a good job to get sex is laughable. He can swipe away on his phone and text “u up?” to a dozen girls before he finds one that is. But somehow this ease hasn’t led to an increase of sex overall. Somewhere amid swiping and half-hearted texting, it seems he gives up and goes to sleep.
A 2017 study called “Declines in Sexual Frequency among American Adults, 1989–2014” by Jean M. Twenge, Ryne A. Sherman and Brooke E. Wells, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, found that people are having less sex today than they were 20 years ago.
And those most likely to be up late swiping, teenagers and millennials, are having less sex than any previous generation despite how easy it seems for them to get it. Twenge, Sherman and Wells write “with age and time period controlled, those born in the 1930s (Silent generation) had sex the most often, whereas those born in the 1990s (Millennials and iGen) had sex the least often.”
It’s not a coincidence that the generations raised with the Internet are having less sex. The blame can’t just fall on porn, either, although there’s evidence that a porn addiction can destroy a sex life. And while a study last week blamed Netflix for our diminishing sex lives, it goes beyond forgetting the “chill” in “Netflix and chill.”
The most likely culprit is one corner of the Internet: social media. Studies have shown that using social media releases dopamine, the chemical in your brain tied to desire, in much the same way as sex. And clicking through your social-media feeds is far easier than finding a partner or even coming on to your existing one.
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We’re replacing sex, which takes some work, with the Internet, which is easy and always available. It’s hitting the same pleasure circuits so we’re barely noticing we’re not getting it in bed as we should be.
Beyond that, social media is skewing the way we conduct our relationships offline. There is an ongoing debate raging as to whether it’s “cheating” for a guy to “like” sexy pictures of women he doesn’t know on Instagram. The advice often given to women complaining about this is that it’s not a big deal and their boyfriends look at pretty women offline, too.
But it is a big deal. As we spend more of our time on social media, the way we relate to other people is changing. So yes, your man might look at other pretty women he passes on the street, but liking a picture on Instagram lets that woman know he is looking at her.
It’s an extra step into her world and women would be crazy not to care about that. That they’re told to pretend that what happens on social media has no effect on their relationships is incorrect. Seeing your boyfriend like some other girl’s butt pic will almost certainly have repercussions in your own bedroom.
The importance of sex can’t be understated for intimacy, closeness and a general feeling of contentment that no amount of “likes” can replace. We need to stop taking the shortcut to the feel-good part of our brain, shut off the Internet and get down to business with our partners.
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