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November 28, 2015

Are Smartphones Eroding Intimacy in the Bedroom?

Mario Mancuso/Flickr

Smartphone technology has infiltrated and molded our lives to the point that our iPhones have become an extension of our hands.

I confess that I sometimes panic when I am in a situation where I can’t instantly check my phone for news or email. The ease of Facebook instant messenger means that I can communicate continuously with friends, even if I have nothing in particular to say.

When this is cut away, I suddenly feel, very strangely, alone.

Time moves differently when you are pressing at your smartphone. I can be scrolling, trance-like, through my Facebook feed, for half an hour at least before I realise I have been completely wasting time that could have been far better spent writing, baking a cake or having an in depth conversation with a loved one.

Experts from various fields have criticised the rise of smartphone technology as being complicit in reducing attention spans, breaking down the ability to concentrate and preventing school kids from gaining substantial literacy skills. From listening to these alarming prophecies, one could deduce that smartphones are making us, well, less human somehow.

However, perhaps the most worrying allegation is the supposed impact that smartphone technology has on our sex lives.

A 2012 study found that around 15 percent of people admitted that they were having less sex directly because of their obsessive browsing habits. A more recent study from Harris Interactive found that 12 percent of adults would agree that their smartphone was creating problems with their love life, with a startling 20 percent of young adults actually using their smartphone during sex (yes during!). A 2014 survey found that 40 percent of young adults have turned down a proposition of sex in favour of playing on their smartphone apps.

Could this data be showing a loss of interest in sex in conjunction with the ever-evolving nature of the iPhone?

This seems a little hard to believe. Surely anybody with half a sex drive would have to confess that a roll in the hay is a great deal more fun than scrolling through endless cat videos and barf-inducing online engagement announcements.

Okay, cat videos are pretty fun, but hear me out. The first argument is that smartphone technology is literally addictive, whether you are playing Angry Birds or Instagramming your morning coffee. I for one admit that I am a social media addict who feels completely out of the loop and on edge if I don’t have access to the internet.

Somewhat frighteningly, smartphone technology is changing the ways in which humans interact and communicate, and this could be said to be translating to our romantic lives. According to Psychologist Paul Levy, “As the quality of our physical connections gets diluted, we expect less.”

This could lead to a lack of intimacy within relationships due to us becoming less “fluent” in intimate communications. We become less romantic as a result and put digital miles between ourselves and our better half.

On the other hand, it is way too soon, in my opinion, to trace any real correlation between smartphones and these qualities. At 24, I am still of the generation who thought having polyphonic ringtones on your phone was the height of technical brilliance. The first time I saw an iPod touch in my mid teens, my jaw literally dropped.

Smartphones have only been around for a precious few years. Human horniness has been around for just about forever. I find it difficult to believe that human interaction can change so completely and so drastically over such a short period of time.

Moreover, this luddite terror of technology destroying what it means to be human is really nothing new. For example, who can forget TS Eliot’s mournful elegy to pre-technology sex in his poem, The Wasteland? Here, a female typist has cold, clinical sexual intercourse, and afterwards crisply laments, “now that’s done and I’m glad it’s over.” The technological culprits in this scenario appear to be tin openers and gramophones.

What couples are really complaining about when they fret over their partner’s bedtime smartphone use is the lack of intimacy this creates. Boundaries towards intimacy are as old as time and have included everything from a partner spending too much time in the pub to too much telly watching. These are seemingly somewhat quaint problems compared to the smartphone panic, but pretty much equate to the same underlying issue.

Pay attention to your partner. Listen to them and make eye contact. Right now, the panic is smartphones, but in 10 years it could well be a new scare. Perhaps it will be the over-consumption of holograms, or the fear that your partner is spending a little too much time on their hover-board.

Just in case, though, I for one will be making a conscious effort to leave my smartphone outside the bedroom door. Emojis and online comments mean nothing next to real, skin-against-skin human contact.

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Relephant Read:

Ask Me Anything: How Technology Undermines Relationships. {Weekly Advice Column}

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Author: Julia Banim

Editor: Toby Israel

Photo: Mario Mancuso/Flickr // m01229/Flickr

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