A forthcoming study, which has been widely reported on, has media outlets stating that people find Facebook (and the internet on the whole) more desirable, more irresistible, and basically more awesome than sex. But there’s a major flaw in the way the study is being talked about; You can check Facebook in a restaurant, on the bus, or while waiting in line at the grocery store. Sex is not exactly in the same boat.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago working in Germany, the which used cell phones to ask college-aged participants to take surveys ranking their desires (for sex, the internet, cigarettes, alcohol, etc.) at a given time, found that people wanted sex more than they wanted to check their email or Facebook, but that they often hit the social media anyway. Why? Because it was there, and because smartphone users have been conditioned to do so. Not because it was somehow a more pleasurable alternative to sex.
Which is the major problem with both the study’s “suggestion,” and the reports around it. They’re putting sex and Facebook on a level playing field, which, obviously, they are not.
ABC, whose initial coverage of the study is being linked back to the most, seems to have the real conclusion–that sex isn’t actually better than Facebook, you can just get on Facebook more than you can have sex–right in front of them. Their story notes that “the desire for sex was stronger,” and even quotes one of the researchers as saying:
Media desires, such as social networking, checking emails, surfing the Web or watching television might be hard to resist in light of the constant availability, huge appeal, and apparent low costs of these activities.
And yet, in every subsequent report I’ve seen, the takeaway message is that we are all drones who get more turned on by Tweeting than by, you know, having sex. And then there’s this part of it…
One drawback of this study is that it failed to address whether the subjects had sexual partners. So while some subjects might have been single, all of them had smartphones…It’s also unclear whether the findings can be generalized to the general population.
Ah. So even if the participants wanted partnered sex way more than they wanted to check Facebook or read Politico or chat on Google Talk or any of the other things they may have been checking their phones for, that may not have been an option at the time. And also this can’t be “generalized to the general public.” Sounds like this conclusion is really rock-solid.
There’s also the problem with this study (or at least, the reporting of it), which doesn’t seem to separate out sex with a partner from, say, masturbation, which still counts in the “sex” column, and is as inexpensive and accessible–albeit, much less appropriate–as social media in plenty of situations.
And then there’s the problem of treating Facebook, Twitter, email, and the rest of the internet as solitary, sterile, sad things. When really, “checking Facebook” is a social activity, and humans are social creatures. So if anything, the conclusion should be that socializing is more tantalizing than solo partnered sex.
So no, I don’t believe that the conclusion to be drawn is that Facebook and email are more irresistible, more desirable, or more rewarding than sex. This study is simply comparing apples to orgasms, and we all know who the clear winner is.
Image: Sergey Peterman via Shutterstock