Do Sex Problems Rise With Increasing Social Media Use?

If you can’t look away from your phone, if you feel preoccupied with Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, X (Twitter), and other social networks, you may well be at increased risk for sexual difficulties. That’s what researchers discovered in a recent study of 730 Portuguese adults.

It’s possible that compulsive use of social media causes sex problems. It’s also possible that sex problems cause social media use and that those suffering sexual distress gravitate to social networks. While cause and effect have not been established, any association between near-ubiquitous social media and sexual dysfunctions is disturbing.

This study joins a growing literature showing that as the use of social media—and the Internet in general—increases, so do loneliness, social isolation, and deterioration of mental health, all of which contribute to sex problems.

The Study

Investigators at the University of Lisbon, Portugal, amalgamated data gathered from four earlier studies, three online surveys, and one face-to-face. The final sample included 536 women and 174 men, aged 18 to 70, with an average age of 24. Almost all were Portuguese. Nine out of ten (93 percent) said they had regular sex partners.

The women who reported the most social media use were at increased risk of arousal problems, poor vaginal self-lubrication, orgasm difficulties, sexual pain, sexual dissatisfaction, and general sexual distress. The men who said they were addicted to social media faced a greater risk of low desire, erectile dysfunction, difficulties with orgasm, and overall sexual dissatisfaction.

The men and women who used social media the most did not experience total sexual collapse, but compared with study participants who indulged more sparingly, they reported generally poorer sexual functioning.

How Could Social Media Hurt Sex?

The researchers suggest that Facebook and its ilk may threaten sexual functioning by increasing stress and compromising mental health:

  • University of Michigan psychologists sent text messages to 82 students (50 women, 32 men) five times a day for two weeks, asking, “How do you feel right now?” and “How satisfied do you feel with your life?” As Facebook use increased, participants felt worse. The more they used Facebook over the two weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined. Face-to-face interactions did not produce this.
  • Danish researchers surveyed the emotional well-being of 1,095 regular Facebook users and then divided them into two groups. One continued to use the site without restrictions. The other swore off it for a week. A subsequent survey showed that those who took the break liked themselves more and felt more satisfied with their lives.
  • Scientists at California State University, Fullerton, surveyed the stress levels of 555 college students (238 women, 317 men), then asked half to abstain from social media for one week. After those seven days, both groups were surveyed again. The abstainers reported significantly less stress.
  • Another group of Portuguese investigators surveyed 548 Portuguese adolescents and young adults aged 16 to 26, using two standard measures of loneliness. As time spent using the Internet increased, so did their loneliness.

Why would frequent social media use harm sex? That’s not clear, but here’s what researchers speculate:

  • As the Internet became a ubiquitous communications tool, some pundits predicted that users would revel in their new ability to connect with so many others. But social media communication is bereft of actual human interaction and the subtle but important cues of face-to-face conversation. Users may find social media hypnotic—but alienating. Which may explain why obsessive use is known as “doom scrolling.”
  • The Internet also spurs anger. Internet advertising is all about click-bait, attracting eyeballs to sites. Getting people riled up does this efficiently. Anger is a stressor that’s not good for sex.
  • Meanwhile, social media focus largely on happy events—many more birthday cakes and beach parties than funerals. Over-emphasis on other people’s joys may make users wonder why they have so few similar events in their lives. This may spur loneliness, another stressor that’s bad for sex.

The result is a mix of emotions that may increase loneliness and anxiety and diminish life satisfaction, all of which may well interfere with erotic connection and impair lovemaking.

Further corroboration comes from the General Social Survey (GSS), the largest and most comprehensive ongoing study of Americans’ attitudes and behavior across many beliefs and activities—including sex. GSS investigators interviewed 9,504 Americans aged 18 to 44 in 2000-2002 and again in 2016-2018. During those 16 years, as social media became an everyday part of many people’s lives, Internet-native men aged 18 to 24 reported the greatest increase in celibacy, 19 percent in the earlier study, then subsequently 31 percent. Internet-native women aged 18 to 24 also reported increased abstinence, from 16 to 20 percent.


The Internet and social networking have not killed sex. Plenty of people still make love, many after watching Internet pornography. However, the research shows that compulsive use of the Internet, particularly social media, often makes people less happy, less satisfied with their lives, and quite possibly more susceptible to a broad range of sex problems. If you stop looking at your phone so frequently, you might feel better about yourself—and you just might enjoy better sex.

This post was originally published on this site