How the sextech industry is changing our pleasure seeking behaviours and what this means for us as a species.
Your brain is your biggest sexual organ. Have you thought about it that way before? A complex interplay of not yet fully understood dynamics, involving your somatic and autonomic nervous systems both centrally (in the brain) and peripherally (nerve conduction outside of the brain). This universal human drive is a driver of population growth, intimacy, meaningful connection and hopefully, pleasure. It is a strange reality to consider that people seem to be having less sex than ever before, men’s sperm counts are lower than they have ever been and the sextech industry is booming. With so much of sex being cognitive, it makes sense that it’s digitisation is upon us.
How do we reconcile that 29% of Americans between 35-45 years of age haven’t had sex in the past year and that 17% of married Americans only have sex once a month? We don’t have data on South Africans, but if my general practice in Johannesburg is a reflection, people’s libidos don’t seem to be as high on their priority lists as their career aspirations or the burden of their bills to pay.
The latest US Censor Bureau report tells us that fewer men are looking for romantic committed relationships than they were pre-pandemic and that 1 in 6 men report that they have no close friends. With women under 30 earning more than their male counterparts and women not wanting to be partnered with men who earn less than them, the loneliness pandemic is ever growing.
What are the public health consequences of these trends? What does this mean for our species? Different sites state that up to a third of internet web content is adult in nature and 87% of American men watch porn daily. Pornhub reports that 3 in 10 of their users are female. It seems a likely explanation that the pandemic’s imposed isolation has had a significant impact on people’s pleasure seeking behaviours. At the same time, the world has seen an uptick in sexually transmitted infections in the American population, which must mean that the people that are still having sex with real people, are doing so unsafely. It is a global phenomenon that men’s sperm counts are the lowest they have ever been in history and I wonder if having your cell phone snuggly tucked into your pocket has anything to do with the scrotum’s decrease in provisions. It’s difficult for our reproductive systems to escape the effects of the digital revolution.
The sextech industry is a 30 billion dollar market. It boggled my mind to learn that while it took Facebook 3 years to gain 50 million users, it took Pornhub only 19 days to achieve the same. Pornhub is the Netflix equivalent for adult content. While this sex-use case may prevent some unwanted pregnancies and reduce the burden of Chlamydia, it was Anais Nin who famously said, Abnormal pleasures kill the taste for normal ones. And she was right, more than 50% of men who watch porn suffer from erectile dysfunction that is entirely psychological. Which brings me to the estimated value of the erectile dysfunction drug market which in 2021 was valued at 2.3 billion US dollars and is on an upward trend of 8.5% annually.
We have less people seeking partners, those who are seeking a partner can’t get an erection and the frequency of intimacy within long standing relationships is on a decline along with men’s sperm counts. I am a passionate advocate for inspiring reverence for the beauty and intelligence of the human body. I have immense faith in the design of the natural world. I am equally fervent that meaningful human connection is what keeps humans sane. So it’s no surprise to me that this generational sexlessness and use of technology for auto-erotica is in part responsible for some of our collective psychic undoing and no one is talking about this flaccid elephant in the room.
How do we heal this evolution from how nature intended things to be? Are we accelerating towards a new reality where human form and function is metamorphosing? It’s possible that if we continue on this trajectory that that might be very possible. While we may be more efficient with gadgets and screens, I argue that we are losing the very essence of what makes us unique and beautiful as a species. And the symptom of this loss, is a debilitating impact on our mental health, which is a euphemism for widespread anxiety, depression, obsessive thoughts and suicidal ideation. Add to this bouquet, performance anxiety in the bedroom and not being aroused enough by the pretty girl next door when she comes knocking.
Because so much of our arousal is via cognitive stimuli, we need to be extremely mindful around tickling these networks artificially. A virtual reality where you can observe your greatest fantasy with any face you choose superimposed on the actor’s body, is a potential quagmire. Why would you have sex with your husband when you can enjoy Mel Gibson virtually (I am showing my age here.) It also begs the question of consent in a wholly different way – because now, not only can technology put your face in the farmyard, it can dub your voice for a saucy dialogue with the virtual avatar.
I am not throwing water on all of the sexy sparks, certainly these innovations are offering something to the free thinking movement and making a certain kind of joie de vivre accessible to all and sundry. Perhaps we are also protecting a certain population from sex offenders who can now get their kicks safely with their screens. But, what of the deep, quiet human need for touch, intimacy and human connection. I fear that if we lose this, we lose our very selves, for what are we but mirrors of one another.