How it was told
It’s somewhat ironic that the streaming service that spawned the suggestive **NUDGE, NUDGE, WINK, WINK** meme ‘Netflix and chill’ is so often said to be the cause of plummeting libidos and dwindling sex lives. But here we are.
Firstly, in late March it was The Washington Post, with a study that made its way on to the BBC Three website.
Then, in April it was The Wall Street Journal, which claimed that a steamy night in has been replaced by a visit to the scroll hole.
Enter May and it’s a case of new month, new study. This one had a wide reach – being published in the majority of the UK press, starting with The Sun’s “NO SEX PLEASE. Young Brits are having less sex than a decade ago because they’re too busy watching Netflix, study finds”.
Mirror Online, Mail Online, the Daily Star and Express Online all followed the next day, pointing the finger at Netflix for its impact in the bedroom, while The Daily Telegraph blamed smartphones solely. The story also made waves abroad, with New York Daily News in the US getting in on the act as did news.com.au down under.
Their stories came from a peer-reviewed British Medical Journal study that used survey data from almost 35,000 people aged 16 to 44 and was carried out in 1991, 2001 and 2012.
They reported that women were most likely to report having sex three times a month in 2012, one fewer than the four times a month in 2001 and 1991. For men, they were most likely to report having sex three times a month across all three years.
At the top end of the scale, the number of people having sex 10 times a month or more dropped sharply, from 19.9 per cent of men in 1991 down to 14.4 per cent two decades later.
But is streaming to blame?
No – or at least not in a way that this study can prove.
Netflix and streaming are not mentioned in the study at any point and there is a pretty simple explanation for that. The final year of data used for the survey – 2012 – coincides with the year that Netflix first launched in the UK and Ireland.
That was back in the heady days when the little-known competitor went head-to-head with Amazon’s Lovefilm – yep, they used to post out DVDs back then.
It would be pretty unfair to lay the blame at the door of Netflix at a time when they could only dream of the 10 million UK subscribers they now boast.
Phones, of course, are a different story. But this cross-sectional study only reports the raw data on the frequency of relations and, therefore, any analysis into the reasons behind it is speculative.
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Professor Kaye Wellings worked on the research paper and does allude to the “busyness” of life in her assessment.
“We observed that a commonly mentioned explanation for having less regular sex than they might like was exhaustion,” she said. “The women went to bed, they said, to sleep. The theme resonates with the growing literature on ‘busyness’ – the increasing pace of modern life and the challenges facing what has been termed the ‘U-bend’ or ‘sandwich’ generation.”
She added: “Any explanation for the possible decline in sexual frequency must be conjectural and no single explanation will apply to all social groups.”
It seems these reports have jumped in front of the science and have been a bit premature to pin the blame on Netflix. It will take a more up-to-date study to test that particular theory.
Until then, buckle up for the new series of Black Mirror.