Is Netflix killing our sex lives? - opinion

According to an Italian sex research study, having a TV in the bedroom kills off marital sex by half.

The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, US July 16, 2018.  (photo credit: REUTERS/LUCY NICHOLSON/FILE PHOTO)
The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, US July 16, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/LUCY NICHOLSON/FILE PHOTO)

Get this. One of 10 people, according to The Telegraph in the UK, check their phones during sex. On the one hand, that sounds nuts. On the other, is anyone surprised?

And that’s just the effects of the small screen on our sex lives. The big screen is far bigger a killer.

According to an Italian sex research study, having a TV in the bedroom kills off marital sex by half. And this was a study back in 2006, before Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime killed off the other half. And this was a study of Italian couples, a nation renowned for its sexual hyperactivity. Just imagine what TV is doing to American married couples.

It gets even weirder.

When I visited New Zealand two years ago on a tour for my book Lust for Love, co-authored with Pamela Anderson, I made the case that TV and Netflix was killing off our sex lives. About a week later a TV critic in Wellington wrote a response. They did not disagree with my premise. The writer acknowledged that even in his marriage, sex was taking second place to binge-watching Netflix. Rather, amazingly, he took issue with the fact that I said this was a bad thing. His argument was that Netflix is a lot better than sex, more interesting, more passionate, more engaging. And better for couples! Watching TV together, he argued, can create greater intimacy than sex.

I can imagine that countless people agree.

An illustration photo shows the logo of Netflix, the American provider of on-demand internet streaming media. (credit: REUTERS)An illustration photo shows the logo of Netflix, the American provider of on-demand internet streaming media. (credit: REUTERS)

We had all imagined – hoped? – that the end of the coronavirus would bring a deep desire to end loneliness and isolation and spur people to invest more deeply in their relationships and their marriages. Heck, we hoped to see a spike in sex.

As the vaccines spread, media outlets were talking about a “Post-COVID summer of lust.”

But by all accounts, it never happened. Even among single people it didn’t happen, let alone married couples who were already struggling with a strong decline in sexual passion caused by the constant consternation over the coronavirus.

What instead happened? Netflix released Squid Games with its violent depiction of people getting their brains blown out in a game to win untold riches and rescue themselves from debt.

Lust has been replaced by gore. I can’t even count how many horror movies are being released, all at the same time. All over the streaming services, which multiply by the day, people are hacking, butchering and dismembering each other, as Americans watch with uncontrolled addiction.

How did TV in general, and violent TV in particular, replace lovemaking and sex? How did any of us buy into the fiction that a husband and wife snuggled up together watching a fictionalized Hollywood drama and not uttering a word to each other would somehow make them closer than making love – especially when what they’re watching is some innocent high school kid getting decapitated at prom?

HERE’S MY take.

The coronavirus surrounded us with death. Watching the news became impossible. It de-eroticized life to a troubling degree. Life became something transitory that could be snuffed out at any time.

There was a need, therefore, to scoff at death, to mock it. To watch it in all its bloody gore and not be traumatized by it.

In our attempts to conquer our fear over death, we produced an avalanche of satanic TV so we could stare death in the face and prove our dominance over it. We looked the angel of death in the eye and we said, “We’re not afraid of you.”

But in so doing, all we proved was that death had won. It was ascendant. Today it dominates even our cultural offerings, our recreation, our time off. We escape death by turning to death. Then we wonder why our mental health has gone off a cliff.

What we should have done was turn, especially in marriage, to life-affirming lovemaking. In Judaism sex is not procreative but intimate. It sews two strangers together as one indivisible organism, becoming “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.” What we needed in response to the coronavirus was not a dive into death but full immersion in life.

Couples should have rediscovered the tactility, intensity and erotic attachment of sex, making them feel like they are never alone, that death could never conquer them.

Instead, we witnessed the deaths of our sex lives in marriage, as husbands and wives joined the zombie apocalypse: two passive, wide-eyed strangers sitting in a bed together watching colorful red-adorned assassins, with triangles and squares on their heads, shooting debt-encumbered men in the head and splattering their brains all over our TV screen for failing at Red Light, Green Light.

The decline of marital sex during the coronavirus has been borne out by many studies. MDlinx.com summed it up. “For about half of American adults, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed their sex life – mostly for the worse, according to various reports....

“A recent study by researchers at Indiana University found that nearly half (49.2%) of a nationally representative sample of 1,010 American adults reported... a decrease in their sexual behavior during the COVID-19 outbreak. An online NBC News poll of more than 11,000 respondents revealed that more than half said coronavirus had negatively impacted their love life. According to an online survey of 1,200 Americans conducted by Lovehoney, a site that sells erotic toys and lingerie, only 32% of American couples reported being ‘sexually happy’ during the pandemic. The crisis has resulted in intimacy challenges for 63% of couples, and 19% of couples weren’t having any sex at all, the survey found.”

IS THERE a solution to how the coronavirus has decreased sex, leaving Netflix to put the final nail in our erotic coffin? Is there any way back, after the coronavirus, to choosing our marriages as an escape from death rather than our TVs?

The easy answer is to get our TVs out of the bedrooms. But that horse seems far out of the stable.

So here’s an easier solution.

Husbands and wives need to agree, just once a week, to ask each other – very honestly! – whether they each feel that their erotic and romantic needs are being met in their marriages. Do we feel touched enough, kissed enough, complimented enough? Is the national average of having sex just once a week for five minutes at a time, compared to the three hours of TV per night, satisfying us?

A husband has to garner the courage to ask his wife if she feels her libido is being killed off by neglect. A wife must ask her husband if he feels his lust for her specifically diminishing as they lie next to each other watching Bridgerton.

Yes, the answers we receive may not be pleasant. They may even be downright painful. But I suspect that they will lead couples to turning off the TV earlier each night, or even deciding to skip a night, as they massage each other’s shoulders, sore feet, painful knees, and sow the seeds of desire that will reanimate our marital bedrooms again, making them glow not with the soft green light of Hulu, but the bright passionate light of erotic passion.

The writer is the best-selling author of Kosher Lust, and creator, with his daughter Chana, of the online sex education initiative Kosher.Sex. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @RabbiShmuley.