A scary estimate of how television damages your sex life (and it doesn’t include Netflix)

TV is not killing your sex life. But it’s not doing it any favors either.

A recent analysis of 4 million people conducted across 80 countries and 5 continents found that television ownership is associated with a 6% reduction in the likelihood of having had sex during the previous week. The researchers suggests all that time spent catching up on your favorite TV shows is the real culprit, and adjusted their findings for household wealth, age and education.

The researchers said this doesn’t include all the time watching Facebook FB, +0.31%  videos and checking your Twitter TWTR, -1.04% feed. “Our findings are consistent with people demonstrating some willingness to substitute electronic companionship for human companionship,” said Nicholas Wilson, associate professor of economics at Reed College in Portland, Ore.

The paper, distributed Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a Cambridge, Mass.-based research organization, said a 6% reduction was a “conservative estimate.” The analysis was carried out by Wilson and Adrienne Lucas, an associate professor of economics at the Lerner College of Business and Economics at the University of Delaware.

Between the television set, streaming content and the smartphone, couples have more distractions than ever.

“More recently, popular culture has claimed that smartphones are killing peoples sex lives,” the authors wrote. “Our study population resides in low- and middle-income countries and were surveyed largely around 2010, before the widespread availability of smartphones. In countries with ubiquitous smartphones, the smartphone might be the real sex-life killer.”

Between the television set, streaming content and the smartphone, couples have more distractions than ever. American adults spend more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media, according to a study released last week by market-research group Nielsen. That’s up from nine hours, 32 minutes just four years ago.

There may also be a financial benefit to having a healthy sex life. Maintaining a healthy sex life at home boosts employees’ job satisfaction and engagement at work, a recent Oregon State University study published in the “Journal of Management” concluded. Married couples who also enjoyed a regular sex life immersed themselves in their tasks at work and enjoyed them more.

The latest research dovetails with a similar study in the U.K. earlier this year that found electricity usage is peaking in the evening between the hours of 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., which also coincides with more internet usage. One theory: This is when people are relaxing and deciding to stream their favorite show on services like Netflix NFLX, +0.64%   and YouTube GOOG, -0.56%   or Hulu.

David Spiegelhalter, a Cambridge University statistician, said more people are bringing their devices to bed and that doesn’t bode well for a couple’s sex life. “People are having less sex,” he told the U.K. Daily Telegraph. “Sexually active couples between 16 and 64 were asked and the median was five times in the last month in 1990, then four times in 2000 and three times in 2010.”

A similar study in the U.K. found electricity usage is peaking in the evening between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m.

“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 10:30 p.m. …and there was nothing else to do,” he said. “Even power cuts help. Now people are having less sex.” (He singled out the popularity of the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” now entering its final season, as one culprit.)

Some couples’ counselors have suggestions on how to have a more active sex life. Don’t wait for it to happen: Those in long-term relationships who were most satisfied with their sex lives took the view that having a health and happy sex life actually takes a lot of work, one 2015 survey in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology of 1,900 people found.

A more practical solution: Turn off the TV and take care of family chores first. In this 2015 study, “The Division of Childcare, Sexual Intimacy, and Relationship Quality in Couples,” researchers at Georgia State University studied 487 heterosexual couples and found that men and women who split child-care duties equitably reported “more satisfying sexual relationships.”

“We find that egalitarian child-care arrangements have positive consequences for both men and women,” they wrote. “These findings contribute to a growing body of research that challenges the costs of egalitarianism and indicates instead that egalitarianism is associated with higher quality, more intimate relationships than gender traditional arrangements.”

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