It’s easy to binge-watch a TV series with your significant other, but it may have long-term effects, emotionally and in the bedroom, writes Katy Harrington.
THERE was a time when Netflix and chill meant just that — curling up and watching six hours of House of Cards in a row.
With time, its meaning morphed and Netflix and chill became a euphemism for getting busy under the sheets.
Then came the gifs, memes, and suddenly you couldn’t escape Netflix and chill references on social media until everyone became as bored of hearing about it as they were of waiting for the new series of Orange is the New Black.
But Netflix and chill might have been all talk and no action in the first place.
At this year’s Hay Festival, the Cambridge professor and statistician David Spiegelhalter made headlines with some off-the-cuff remarks about Netflix and sex.
He talked about the effect that being online 24/7, streaming TV shows, updating Facebook, checking emails, or scrolling through endless images on Instagram is having on our sex lives.
He was quoted as saying: “The point is that this massive connectivity, the constant checking of our phones compared to just a few years ago when TV closed down at 10.30pm or whatever and there was nothing else to do... Now people are having less sex.”
Spiegelhalter cited Netflix as a specific cause. “I think it’s the boxset, Netflix. OMG I’ve got to watch the entire second series of Game of Thrones.”
Speaking to Feelgood, Spiegelhalter said his comments about Netflix were more of a joke than based on serious scientific data, but still, he’s right about one thing — we are having sex less than before.
Researching his new book, Sex by Numbers, Spiegelhalter looked at Natsal data (Britain’s National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles) dating back to 1990.
Natsal is the largest scientific study of sex in the world to date, giving us insights into the sex lives of about 45,000 people.
Sexually active couples between 16 and 64 were asked how often they had sex. In 1990 the median was five times in the last month. By 2000 is was four times and by 2010 it was three times.
“At this rate by 2030 couples are not going to be having any sex at all. Which is a very worrying trend,” says Spiegelhalter.
But can we really blame Netflix for our lower libidos? Is it possible that the streaming service that brought us binge-watching (70% of those with a Netflix account admit to doing it) is sidelining sex?
With 51m users around the world in 2015, watching a combined total of 100m hours of TV and movies per day, it’s not that crazy to think Netflix is messing up our nightly routines.
Relate counsellor and sex therapist Peter Saddington says binge-watching doesn’t have to be a bad thing. “We all lead busy lives; having some time when you both sit down to watch the same thing can be positive.”
But there is a fine line between enjoyment and exclusion.
“Where it becomes negative is when people get preoccupied. ‘I’ve really got to see this’, ‘I don’t want to go out’, you can become overinvolved in a programme.
“Likewise, it can turn into a situation where one person doesn’t want to go out or call over to see family because they want to devote the whole weekend to watching their favourite show.”
Some co-habiting couples admit that certain TV shows can cause issues.
“I admit we have forsaken our sex life for Game of Thrones,” says a married mum of two on Facebook.
Meanwhile, Nikki, who is married, says: “My Love Island addiction is making my husband want to divorce me.
“It’s war,” says husband Christian, who finds watching the reality show “depressing”.
They are half-joking, but it shows how polarising TV shows can be.
If you are unattached, Netflix might be getting in the way of your love life too.
Alicia, 29, is newly single and says streaming makes staying in a lot more attractive.
“I don’t feel bad staying in instead of going out.
“There’s a steady stream of shows and movies at your fingertips. It’s not something I feel guilty about.”
While streaming a TV series on your laptop can lead to problems in the bedroom other technology can help couples to connect.
Peter Saddington cites Relate’s ‘state of the nation’ research carried out with 6,000 couples in Britain last year.
On the upside, smartphones and tablets were seen as a good thing for people who wanted to keep in touch with a partner when they’re away from each other for long periods.
More than eight in 10 people under-35 who use technology to keep in touch with a partner on a daily basis said it had a positive effect on their relationship.
The over-65s felt similar, with almost eight in 10 saying the same was true for them.
Couples who don’t live together also liked using technology to stay in touch (more than those who were married or co-habiting). But while new technologies made it faster and more efficient ways to communicate, there were cons too.
The survey findings caution that technology has the potential to become a ‘disruptive innovation’.
Also, while sexting or sending saucy pictures was seen as a way to ‘spice things up’ (particularly popular with unmarried couples, of whom nearly half said sexting was a good thing), not everyone has had a positive experience with using technology as part of their sex life.
Saddington points out another snag — if you are watching TV or playing with your smartphone/iPad in bed, your attention is not on your partner and that can lead to problems.
Pat Grange, a relationships counsellor and supervisor at Relationship Ireland, sees lots of couples who have let little irritations, like paying more attention to phones than each other, come to crisis point.
“The one thing couples really need in a relationship is to have time for each other. The laptops, the smartphones; these things can become compulsive. We depend on them. The art of conversation gets lost.”
In particular, when it comes to sex, Grange says couples tend to avoid conversation altogether and brush things under the carpet.
“It’s a sensitive area, people get defensive. We’ll talk indirectly about it, and use body language but it’s harder to sit face to face and deal with it.”
Grange also says that Netflix needn’t be a negative thing.
“If it’s bringing people closer together for a cuddly night then great” — but not if a Netflix night in means “one is engrossed and ignoring the other”.
“If the relationship is in difficulty, one or the other will usually take an interest in something else. They use it as a buffer — it could be Netflix, the children, drink, or work.”
Whether it’s Netflix, an iPhone, or replying to emails, Grange says it is easier to bury your head in the sand or watch the entire first season of Breaking Bad.
“It’s less challenging to deal with an inanimate object than a real person who has thoughts and opinions of their own.”
If one person’s Netflix binging is becoming a problem, his advice is to address it sooner rather than later, but timing is everything. Choose a time when you are both relaxed and not tired or stressed out. Then pick your words wisely.
Grange recommends using ‘I’ language. “Say things like, ‘I feel alone when you’re on the computer or your phone’; ‘I feel ignored’; ‘I feel like I might as well not be here.’”
He tells couples that come to him for counselling that their relationship is like a car and they are setting off on a long journey. If you don’t put petrol in the tank, it stops.
Michelle is married and a mother to two young boys. She doesn’t hold her punches when talking about her sex life with her husband Roger.
“Sex life? That desire disappeared with kids, it made some short reappearances but was not long lived. Now romance is put on a movie and maybe have a quickie.”
The subject of TV and romance/sex has come up with other mums.
“Almost all the mothers are adamant that a TV in the bedroom ruins the romance and ends any chances of sex. But I disagree… I love our TV in our bedroom.
"It allows us to watch programmes that our kids can’t without having to wait until after they are asleep.
"It also provides a getaway, where I can go take a break and zone out with the children in the background.
“That in turn, gives my husband a better chance of getting a yes.”
There’s no doubt technology is changing the way we conduct our relationships and, for most of us, we’re still trying to figure out the boundaries.
While it can help communication, its effect on our sex lives is mixed. What’s worrying is while we are happy to sit and watch steamy sex scenes on Game of Thrones, we seem less able to have an honest conversation about what’s lacking in our own relationships.
There’s nothing wrong with Netflix, but if a season finale is more exciting than your sex life, it might be time to turn it off and try get turned on again instead.
How to get your sex life back on track when you’re hooked on TV and technology
1. Acknowledge it — sounds simple but sometimes we are too quick to brush things under the carpet.
2. Tell your partner you want to talk.
3. Choose the right moment. Talk when you both have time, not when you are tired or stressed, it shouldn’t be an ambush.
4. Use ‘I’ language. For example: ‘ I feel like…’ ‘I’ve noticed this.’ Not ‘you don’t do this’ or ‘you never…’
5. Avoid being sarcastic or judgemental.
6. Talk about the two of you, don’t compare yourself to other couples.
7. Ask questions: ‘How do you feel about our sex life?’ ‘What do you like?’ ‘What would you like to do differently?’ ‘Do you fancy a weekend away?’
8. Try banning smartphones from the bedroom and make it space a space for relaxing, sleeping, and sex.
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