Social Media-Induced Abstinence - Network Week


By Molly Freeman

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Keith.

In an era when we are inundated with online dating from websites to apps—OK Cupid,, E-Harmony, Tinder, Carrot, Grouper, Love Flutter, Coffee Meets Bagel—nearly endless relationship prospects are at our fingertips. So why have researchers found that relationships and sex are on the decline?

A survey taken in the UK found that people aged 16-44 are having sex fewer than five times a month, which has decreased since the past two polls in 1990-91 and 1999-2000. The authors of the Official National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles said the stresses of modern life might have an impact on libido.

Job and money concerns may be plaguing people today and impacting their mood for sex. According to Dr. Cath Mercer from University College London, modern technology is also to blame: “People have tablets and smartphones and they are taking them into the bedroom, using Twitter and Facebook, answering emails.”

Men polled said they had sex 4.9 times a month while women reported 4.8; in previous surveys both sexes averaged more than six times a month. Mercer also attributed the decline in sex to online porn, which she claims many people use as a substitute.

In Japan, the lack of interest in sex and relationships has become so rampant that the country’s media began referring to as “celibacy syndrome.” As Japan has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, and a population of 126 million that is projected to drop by one-third by 2060, “celibacy syndrome” has become a national issue.

According to a survey conducted in 2011, 61 percent of unmarried men and 49 percent of women between 18-34 were not in a romantic relationship—an increase of nearly 10 percent from 2006. Another survey from the Japan Family Planning Association found that 45 percent of women aged 16-24 and more than a quarter of men “were not interested in or despised sexual contact.”

In an interview with The Guardian, sex and relationship counselor Ai Aoyama, claimed the country has experienced “a flight from human intimacy.” Aoyama said that both men and women who seek out her services claim they don’t see the point of love and they turn elsewhere for satisfaction, or places of instant gratification. These channels, ranging from virtual girlfriend avatars to anime cartoons, Aoyama calls ‘Pot Noodle love’.

Even in America, an aversion to intimacy seems to be a problem, at least enough to lead to professional snuggling as an actual job. A Snuggle House recently opened in Madison, WI that charges $60 an hour for cuddling.

Earlier this year, “rental boyfriends” became a booming business in China where women are pressured by their family to get married by the age of 27. But if you can’t afford to rent, you might still be able to afford a Fake Internet Girlfriend, which will create a social media presence of a false significant other. (They’ll even create certain specialty girlfriends like the gamer girl package.)

With so many people worldwide experiencing “celibacy syndrome,” it begs the question of why we have so many apps and websites dedicated to finding love. Is it really that people have become impartial to relationships or are people too lazy to actually work at creating and maintaining relationships?

In an age when our smartphones can do almost everything for us (even replace vibrators, which themselves replace sexual intimacy) perhaps we have been groomed to expect everything to be as easy. What motivation do we have to maintain long-lasting relationships?

With the normalization of divorce, obviously many people don’t believe marriage is as much of a binding contract as it used to be. But what about happiness? Can’t it be achieved through marriage or other long-lasting relationships? Well, marriage is often portrayed in media and pop culture as a burden. Think about all the TV husbands of the past fifty years, how many could be classified as happy?

When everything else comes to easily to people and makes them just as happy, why should they work so hard to maintain a romantic relationship? As Japan tangles with that question, Kunio Kitamura, head of the Japan Family Planning Association, said the ensuing crisis is so serious that the country “might eventually perish into extinction.”

Let’s be honest, though, we as a worldwide society aren’t too far off from developing the technology so that even reproducing and keeping our species alive may be just as easy as flicking through matches on Tinder.