by Joanna Stern on May 6, 2008
Chris Parsons and his girlfriend both left the mall with stimulating toys. He bought himself a black BlackBerry Pearl 8100 and his girlfriend a black set of sheer Victoria’s Secret lingerie.
“When we got home I had neatly tore into the box and laid everything out carefully. My girlfriend came out to the computer where I was sitting. She was dressed up in a very sexy, very see-through outfit and was tempting me to come ‘play,’” Parsons recounted. The next part might seem unbelievable. “I snubbed the offer and advised her nicely that ‘I’ve got to set up my Pearl.’”
Mixed up priorities? Maybe. But Parsons isn’t alone. Twenty percent of people say they’re spending less time having sex because of the amount of time spent online or otherwise occupied with their gadgets, according to a September 2007 survey conducted by advertising agency JWT. The bliss that comes from interacting with technology and staying connected has matched or, in some cases, even replaced the pleasure of sexual arousal.
“It’s not the gadget that turns us on, it’s the thing that gadget represents,” said Regina Lynn, author of Sexual Revolution 2.0. “We have entered new times and the cell phone and laptop find their way into most bedrooms,” she added.
From power tools to MP3 players, there is no doubt that men are gadget lovers. Gizmos of all types can be status symbols or simply fun toys to play with. But they also point to more primal impulses. “Men are more prone to value gadgets and technology as tools that further their mission in life: to provide,” said Dr. Paul Dobransky, a psychiatrist and coauthor of The Secret Psychology of How We Fall In Love. “That’s one reason you often come across men that cannot part with business e-mail.”
However, it’s not just men who are giving up sex for their passion for technology. Stephaine Schroeder, 44, a public relations associate and part-time fiction writer from Brooklyn, N.Y., can attest to the fact that some women love their gadgets as much or more than sex. “I truly do love my laptop. I know I can meet up with someone and have sex. But I would rather stay in with my computer and write,” she said. “Basically, I would rather play with my computer than play with someone else.”
And although Schroeder may not be the norm among women, she is among a growing segment of the population. “It is all people—men and women. We are all infatuated with technological gadgets because they represent a progression of us as a species. We are tool oriented and we are constantly inventing things,” Lynn said.
What is it about gadgets and constant connectivity that can make people reach that otherwise elusive climax? Can the pleasure of playing with a new digital camera or responding to an e-mail be equal to or better than sexual fulfillment?
Schroeder believes that interacting with her Dell Inspiron puts her on the same plane as sexual pleasure. “It doesn’t replace it. It’s just completely different. To me, both are equally great.”
David Greenfield, a psychologist and founder of the Center of Internet Behavior, has seen plenty of people who love their gadgets and Web connectivity as much as sex. “The whole Internet and many of the new gadgets, like BlackBerrys, operate on a variable ration schedule,” he said. In layman terms the “variable ration schedule” refers to repeated behaviors such as playing a slot machine, where a response (e.g., winning money) reinforces and validates the original behavior after an unpredictable number of tries.
“The brain is compelled to keep going when there is the chance of a good result. That’s why people check their e-mail 20 to 30 times a day, because every once in a while you will get one message that is really great.”
Greenfield says that the chemical released when checking your BlackBerry or laptop is the same that is released during sex. “There is a release of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter. It’s a pleasure chemical that is also released during orgasm. People find themselves chasing that dopamine rush by checking their BlackBerrys, but also by having sex. They aren’t conscious of it, but they do know that both feel really good.”
John Suler, author of The Psychology of Cyberspace, agrees that computers satisfy some people to the point where they no longer pursue sex, and that some people may see their computer as a replacement for a sexual partner. “Humans have incredible tendencies to sexualize almost any thing or activity, including computers. Depending on the person, the computer could become sexualized for a variety of reasons. The fact that it can be controlled and dominated is one of them,” Suler said.