Are you a technologically advanced smarty-pants? Check. 60-hour work weeks? Check. Haven't gone to the gym, gotten a haircut, or eaten healthy in the past 6 months? Check. Spending all of your free time online? Check. Lack on intimacy in your relationship or no relationship at all? Check. Each year more-and-more individuals move to Silicon Valley full of optimism about "making it big" either with an innovative startup or by working for one of the already established tech giants. A combination of long work hours, lack of self-care, overwhelming stress/anxiety, and "Imposter Syndrome" can contribute to the neglect of one's romantic/sexual life. Two of the main problems that I hear about in my work as a psychologist in Silicon Valley are issues around sexual desire and/or finding a partner.
Last year a study was published stating that millennials are less likely to have sex than any other generation in the past 60 years: Researchers attribute this to technology, online dating apps, and easy access to porn. Let's dive into each of these issues and discuss how to address them.
Technology: Almost no one will debate that technology is anything less than a wonderous thing, but do you find yourself struggling to put down your laptop or turn off your phone? When was the last time you neglected your sleep in order for an all night Reddit bender? When was your last Netflix binge? Have your friends, family, or romantic partner commented on your constant need to be digitally connected? I often hear the complaint from clients that their spouses are constantly glued to their smartphones throughout dinner, even on "date nights." This inattention makes them feel unimportant and unloved. They become convinced that they are less of a priority than their partner's work, email, or social media. And they are right. It is no surprise that our digital devices have a way of sucking us in. All of the large tech companies employ social psychologists to help craft their products to have addictive-like qualities (Read more about this here). Statistics reveal the following:
- The average person checks their phone 200 times a day - that's once every six and a half minutes.
- 67% of cellphone owners find themselves checking their device even when it’s not ringing or vibrating.
- The average employee checks 40 websites a day, switching activities 37 times an hour, changing tasks approximately every two minutes.
- However, only 2% of people can actually multi-task without decline in performance.
- The average American dedicates 30% of leisure time to perusing the web.
- One in four people spend more time online than they do asleep.
- 95% of people use some type of electronics in the hour leading up to bed.
- One out of ten Americans report depression; heavy internet users are 2.5 times more likely to be depressed.
What can you do about it? Dare I say it? Two words, digital detox. Entrepreneurs are now capitalizing on this idea with digital detox retreat centers and digital detox summer camps for adults. Before you pack up your hypoallergenic pillow and head off to camp, there are a number of things you can do at home, on your own, including:
1) Put your devices away at mealtimes and bedtime. Seriously, power them down and put them in another room. At mealtimes, enjoy the company you keep (and the taste of your food!). At bedtime, turn off anything with a screen at least an hour before you plan on falling asleep. Definitely don't keep your phone next to your bed or anywhere in your bedroom for that matter.
2) Remove temptations during the day. Place your devices away, out of sight. If you can, don't carry your phone on your person. Put your phone, tablet, or laptop in a drawer or a bag. Don't use your cell phone as a wrist watch or alarm clock. Watches and alarm clocks are relatively cheap these days. Purchase and use them.
3) Delete social media from your phone. Yep, delete it. Goodbye Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Goodbye.
4) Tune out for the weekend. Many experts suggest turning off devices for the whole weekend. Uh huh, both Saturday and Sunday. If this feels impossible to you, I would suggest starting with something a bit more palatable like minimizing your use of technology on the weekends by allowing yourself 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening to take care of all your digital needs. The rest of the time? Well, you are going to discover that there are a lot of hours in a day! Connect with nature, read a paperback book (remember those?), exercise, put together a puzzle, rediscover a hobby or interest. See what it is like to spend time with others when you are giving them your full attention.
2) Use tech to fight tech. There are a number of wonderful apps to help you fight tech overuse. Escape, Freedom, Forest, and Go Fucking Work (yep, that is really its name). Some of these apps will help you track your distractions/usage while others will block you from accessing sites. Find the one that works best for you.
Online Dating Apps: Swipe left, swipe right, swipe, swipe, swipe. I have a coworker who uses Tinder. When I walk by her office she is swiping. In our Friday staff meetings she is swiping. When we are out at trivia night she is swiping. Not only is she not connecting with the people in her life that are right in front of her, but she is also not really connecting with the people she is swiping. Online platforms can often be a comfortable and "safe" way of communicating with potential love interests. However, most of the time these interactions don't transfer to the real world and remain strictly online causing a huge time suck and distraction from real-world connections.
What can you do about it?
1) Meet the individual that you have been corresponding with in real life. This is akin to that Billy Ocean song that goes "Get outta my dreams. Get into my car." Stop messaging back-and-forth. Stop dilly-dallying and move from online connection to an in-person activity as quickly as possible.
2) Take social risks. Show up at parties, happy hours, trivia nights, Meetups, etc., and don't just talk to the people you know. Try showing up a few minutes early in order to allow time to strike up a conversation before things get too crazy/noisy/chaotic. Practice making eye contact and smiling at individuals who are new to you.
3) Try a new activity. Go hiking with a local hiking group or running with a local running club. Sign up for a cooking class, take a guitar lesson, or study a foreign language. Volunteer. Whatever floats your boat, just do it!
4) Sign up for a single's event. Be brave, give it a whirl. It will likely feel awkward but just remember everyone there has the same mission as you.
5) Ask your good friends to set you up. They know you best.
6) Get a dog (or borrow one and take it for a walk). People love dogs (well, most people do).
Easy Access to Porn: Oh porn! Such a tangled web you weave! You used to be harder to get. We used to have to walk into a skeezy liquor store or porn shop and request a porn magazine (wrapped securely in a plastic wrapper) from an actual person working behind the counter. When the internet first took off, you used to give us viruses, torment us with endless popup windows, or tease us with half-loaded pictures. But now, dear porn, you are free, easily accesable, and anonymous (I am looking at you, Protected/Incognito Mode). Not only are you free and easily accessible but you link to increasingly more disturbing and shocking content. Statistics reveal the following:
- In 2016 alone, Pornhub got 23 BILLION visits. That’s 729 people a second, or 64 million a day.
- 4,599,000,000 hours of porn were watched on the site in just one year. That’s equal to 5,246 centuries.
- 1 in 3 porn viewers are women.
- 20% of men admit to watching porn online at work.
- The most popular day of the week to watch porn in Sunday.
Porn use isn't necessarily harmful in all relationships. For some couples, porn use can actually enhance intimacy. There does seem to be some gendered differences when it comes to porn though. A woman is more likely to view her husband or boyfriend's use of porn as infidelity and a betrayal of relationship trust while a man is more likely to view his wife or girlfriend's use of pornography as "hot" and an interesting way to spice things up.
Porn use becomes problematic when it creates unrealistic expectations, becomes an alternative to intimacy within one's primary relationship, becomes time-consuming, or is a means of coping or dealing with distress. Porn use is also problematic when it replaces real relationships.
What can you do about it?
1) Decide what needs to change. Do you want to stop porn consumption altogether? Change the frequency with which you watch porn? Stop watching a certain genre of pornography? First, you need to be clear and concrete about what you want to change before you can take action.
2) Consider a porn detox. Yep, there is that word detox again! Try not to engage in porn use for a specified period of time. A few days, a week, a month. This is an experiment to see what comes up for you when you feel compelled to use porn. Are you frustrated? Bored? Sad? Angry? What can you do with these emotions instead?
3) Combat underlying problems. Many individuals use porn as a way to self-soothe. Consider addressing your depression, anxiety, stress, or trauma in healthier ways (e.g., therapy, exercise, spending time with friends, meditation, yoga).
4) Combat boredom. Excessive porn consumption is often a habit that one does when feeling bored. Find other tools for dealing with boredom. Take a walk, read a book, call a friend, plan that next vacation. Boredom is something that we all need to learn to tolerate.
5) Deal with loneliness. Get involved in your community, spend time with family/friends, strengthen your support network.
6) Track your time and utilize internet blockers. Track how much time porn is taking up in your day. Set a specific time you will utilize porn and then stop when that time is up. You can also block porn on your devices if you so desire.
So go on, get out there, and live your life. You bought that phone. Do you own it or does it own you? Connect with reality. Or disconnect (from your devices). Your relationships will thank you for it.
To learn more about participating in sex therapy in Silicon Valley, visit my website: https://www.drpomeranz.com