Social media isn’t inherently harmful. When used in moderation, social media is arguably a powerful tool; it facilitates interconnectivity and has even fueled revolutionary movements, from the Arab Spring to #MeToo.
But estimates posit that more than 210 million people cope with internet and social media addictions, which is not so surprising, as we’re all tapping away on our devices 2,617 times each day on average. And when used excessively, a wealth of research suggests social media can have debilitating effects. Social media addiction has been linked to depression and social isolation, for example, and experts tell us that is can even kill libido.
While some use social media to connect and even augment sexual expression, others may find that social media decreases their sex drives. Here are three ways that spending too much time online may be impacting your partnered sex life for the worse.
Social media is sucking up your time
“People are more likely than ever to sit on their phones at dinner rather than to engage in conversations with each other,” Michael Salas, a Dallas-based sex therapist, tells SheKnows. “People also commonly struggle with talking about sex with their partners — social media can take up a lot of time so that people don’t have to address these uncomfortable realities.”
Studies suggest that we spend 135 minutes per day on social media on average, which is up from 126 daily minutes in 2016. That’s almost two hours each day that could have been spent more intimately, both physically and communicatively.
“Social media keeps us in a virtual bubble [and] makes us think we’re interacting with others when we like pictures and leave comments, but we aren’t really interfacing with anyone,” Dr. Vijayeta Sinh, owner of Therapy Couch NYC, tells SheKnows. “That calls for being able to read social cues, make eye contact, modulate our voice and articulate ourselves.”
But when we use social platforms as a primary means of communicating to others, Sinh says we detract from our ability to connect and instead continue to carry on conversations in our own minds.
Erika Miley, a mental and sexual health therapist, tells SheKnows this disconnect can also abate arousal.
“How is any person suppose to get excited to have sex with a phone in their face unless that phone has porn on it?” Miley asks. “Often, social media is a way for us to numb out our surroundings or disconnect from reality. This can be detrimental to any relationship if folks come home, eat dinner, watch Netflix, then stare at their device. There are no soft touches, longer looks in the eye or butt smacks when you are numbing with social media.”
Constant comparisons are distorting your perception of both yourself & your partner
“I see social media lead [my clients] to buying into comparison with others — they can feel like others have it better than they do without recognizing that everyone has their struggles,” Salas says.
Research on the social comparison theory has suggested that comparison is the thief of joy time and time again. One analysis found a link between depression and rumination — the practice of mulling over online experiences, even long after we’ve logged off. For women in particular, just 10 minutes of ruminating on others’ images on Facebook can have us spiraling into self-loathing moods.
Of course, self-deflating confidence and depression can take a toll on partnered sex.
“The deeply curated images on social media encourage many of my clients’ thoughts about their bodies,” Miley says. “In fact, many people I have worked with have talked about social media as evidence that other people ‘have it together’ more than they do.”
Miley adds that the shame of feeling “not enough” can cause us to isolate ourselves or create distance to reduce discomfort. So instead of seeking real intimacy, we seek social media likes, which she calls red herrings that are less intimidating and feel good for a moment but are neither long-lasting nor nearly as satisfying.
On top of potentially affecting our perceptions of ourselves, social media can distort our perceptions of our partners too.
“One of the most damaging effects social media has on our sex drive is to make us feel less aroused by our own partners,” Raffi Bilek, a couples counselor and director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, tells SheKnows. “People rarely post their least attractive moments on Facebook. Instead, you’re getting their highlights reel, while at home, you’re exposed to all the behind-the-scenes reality. Seeing others at their best and comparing that to your partner at their normal (and sometimes their worst) makes it hard to stay excited about them.”
Social media is teasing you with temptation
Social media can add fuel to the fire of infidelity.
“Many versions of relationships have ended in front of me and the first thing they have said is, ‘Well, all you do is talk to so-and-so on messenger,’ or ‘I found your Grindr profile but we agreed we’re only seeing each other,’” says Miley. “Social media gives us a false sense of anonymity and distance from our humanness because of its numbing effects.”
It turns out social media facilitates both emotional and physical cheating. In a Trustify study, “Why, When and How People Stray,” the researchers found that of those who admitted to infidelity, 23 percent had met the person with whom they cheated online (either through social media or a dating service) — many of whom expressed desire for more attention, new experiences or reasons of revenge.
Even for those who are single, social media can make finding and building sustained relationships complicated.
“Sometimes, with hookup apps like Tinder or Grindr, there is the sense of curiosity about ‘Is the next person even hotter or going to be more my type?’ that might distract from any current conversations or chances to meet up,” Dr. Brian Cassmassi, a licensed adult psychiatrist in Los Angeles, tells SheKnows.
So, if any of this sounds familiar, you may want to consider limiting your time on social media — sometimes IRL experiences really are better.