Owning a TV could put a damper on your sex life

Fire and ice
Fire and ice
Image: REUTERS / Eloy Alonso
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Among young people, an invitation to “Netflix and chill” is understood as a euphemistic way to get someone into bed. But a lot of couples interpret “Netflix and chill” quite literally—and a new study suggests that watching TV may have a chilling effect on their sex lives.

A new working paper, conducted by two researchers from the University of Delaware and Reed College, found that television ownership is associated with a more than 5% reduction in sexual activity in low- and middle-income countries. (The paper, circulated by the National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER), has not yet been peer-reviewed.) It looked at the self-reported answers of nearly 4 million respondents from 80 countries across five continents to the international Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), a survey program funded by the United States Agency for International Development and other donors.

Approximately 50% of households in the data sets owned a television. After controlling for factors like household income and sexual health education, the researchers found that individuals in households that owned a television had a 5.7% lower likelihood of having had sex in the past week, leading them to conclude that “while television may not kill your sex life, it is associated with some sex life morbidity.” Fun. 

By contrast, the researchers found that owning a motorcycle or car is associated with more sexual activity. That makes sense: Having a way to get around (no pun intended) makes sexual activity more accessible.

This finding is significant from a family planning and demographic policy perspective. Countries with high birth rates may want to invest in getting most households a cable subscription. On the other hand, countries struggling with low fertility rates and demographic crises may want to consider “subsidies, taxes, information campaigns, and other methods” to limit TV ownership, as the study authors explain.

This finding could also have implications in high-income countries where the use of video and technological platforms is on the rise, like the US. On average, American adults watch almost six hours of television per day. That number doesn’t even account for the use of online streaming services, even though 50% of Americans now have subscription services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu in their homes, according to the market research firm Nielsen. As the amount of time adults spend consuming media continues to go up, experts worry that other leisure activities—like sex or quality family time—are taking a hit.

More fundamentally, the study gets at the heart of the debate about the dangers of technology, according to its authors, Adrienne Lucas and Nicholas Wilson. “To what extent are our devices replacing direct, human interaction?” they write in an email to Quartz. Binge-watching old episodes of Sex and the City may be fun—but it’s no substitute for the real thing.