Ganesh Iyer, 40, a banker from Delhi, unwinds every evening by parking himself in front of his play-station with a beer can for company. Nivedita Puri, 37, a media professional from Gurugram, loves binge-watching, and nights turn into days without her having any intimate conversation with her husband.
Rajiv Garg, 44, a software professional from Mumbai, can’t stay away from his phone due to the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). So much so that inadvertently, most nights, his wife is fast asleep by the time he gets free from his social media browsing.
Young couples have an intruder in their bedrooms – call it Fortnite, Netflix, or Instagram. These are people who would rather give intimacy a miss than forgoing their love for being online. It has quietly, but persistently, sneaked in between the sheets where chitchat, romance, foreplay and sex thrived once upon a time.
THE DIGITALLY DISTRACTED
In a research paper published in the British Medical Journal last month, it was found that fewer than half of Britons now had sex once a week. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine analysed data from a cross-section of men and women aged 16 to 44 who completed a survey about their sex lives in 1991, 2001 and 2012.
It revealed that rates of sexual activity plummeted in Britain between 2001 and 2012, with the steepest declines among the over-25s and those who were married or living together. Relationship experts in India warn that it’s a stark reality of the times we live in where gadgets control us.
“It’s a global phenomenon. The digital revolution has entered our bedrooms and sex has gone out of the window,” says Dr Rajiv Anand, marriage counsellor and psychiatrist, director, Inner Light Counselling Centre, Mumbai.
Terming it a “disturbing trend”, Dr Anand, explains how couples are losing intimacy because “most couples sleep with a mobile phone under the pillow.”
UK research indicates how “life in the digital age” is partly to blame. They are now constantly distracted by Netflix, social media or their phones to focus on each other. The decline was due to “the sheer pace of modern life” and that middleaged couples juggling childcare and work were the worst affected.
Though there is no specific research in our country on the subject as of now, experts believe that the pattern isn’t too dissimilar here.
According to Dr Samir Parikh, director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, sexual intimacy between couples has been on a “decline” in the past few years.
“This has largely to do with the high-stress lifestyles that are prevalent these days, which induce a lot of fatigue and where people don’t have time to unwind and invest into personal relationships,” he says.
“In addition, the influence of technology and digital media has pervaded into personal lives, impacting the quality of intimacy and communication between partners,” Dr Parikh adds.
Marriage counsellors and therapists, clearly, are putting the onus of lack of sexual intimacy between couples on digital mediums.
Dr Sanjay Chugh, a Delhi-based consultant psychiatrist, explains how most couples with busy work lives relax with gadgets.
“After dinner, one would barely get a couple of hours with each other, if that. Many a time, people want to call it a night as soon as they can as they may have an early start the next day. In this slim window, if one partner or both decide to watch a web series or browse the internet as a way to relax, there would obviously not be much time left for intimacy,” points out Dr Chugh.
Time is of the essence. Dr Prakash Kothari, renowned sexologist and relationship expert, says that couples don’t want to spend “intimate time” in the bedroom anymore. “Foreplay has become a thing of past with most married couples. There’s hardly any communication between them as digital distractions transport them to the world of fantasy which is often more colourful than reality,” Dr Kothari adds.
Sexless marriages and weekend spouses are becoming commonplace. “It’s an age of immediate gratification. And the digital medium is seen as a stress-buster,” Dr Anand says.
He argues how social media has “hijacked emotional needs” of urban couples. His clinic often sees couples in their 30s and 40s coming to him with marital distress.
“As compared to a decade back, I see a 40 per cent rise in cases where lack of sexual intimacy is the reason for marital discord,” points out Dr Anand.
Therapists are now seeing more couples who would rather pay attention to their virtual life than reality.
Dr Samir Parikh cites the example of a 27-year-old-man who had recently got married and came for therapy following conflicts with his wife due to a lack of sexual intimacy.
“He said that he had lost interest in sex and preferred playing video games, spending time on social media and occasionally used to watch pornography,” says Dr Parikh.
The patient was counselled on how to balance his time and participate in recreational activities like going for walks with his wife. “With improvements in their lifestyle as well as communication, the couple was able to revive their intimacy,” adds Dr Parikh.
Sexual intimacy, for many people, is an act of emotional and physical bonding. And it’s not always digital distractions that keep couples apart. Work stress, childcare stress, long hours of commute between work and home all add to the woes of a modern couple.
Dr Kothari terms stress arising out of these situations as the leading factor for “failing libido”.
“If they are mentally or physically too exhausted by the drudgery of everyday life, it’s hard for them to get into the mood to be intimate. Many clients have reported that sex has become a weekend chore or sometimes not even that. Even more unfortunate, it has been relegated to being a holiday activity as that’s the only time they’re mentally relaxed. Earlier, with lesser number of extraneous distractions, partners would spend more time with each which led to greater intimacy,” says Dr Chugh.
Late night binge-watching has eaten into Puri’s nightly rituals. “One web episode leads to another and soon it’s nearing dawn. Sex can wait, not the latest episode of my favourite series,” says Puri, who has been married for the last 10 years. She says the frequency of mating was much higher in the first three years of marriage before they had a child.
Iyer asserts how he is often “not in the mood” after a long day at work. “After two hours on the road, all I want to do after coming home is knock off some guy on the PlayStation. Sex comes to our mind only during weekends,” he says.
Garg unwinds by checking his multiple social media accounts. He can’t sleep without his iPad as he doesn’t like missing out on the latest shows on Netflix and Amazon.
“A couple needs to be involved emotionally with undivided attention when with each other. The over-indulged mind amongst gadgets fail to indulge with a partner,” says Dr Anand.
Rising gender equality means women are now more vocal about their sexual needs.
Dr Kothari, with five decades of experience, claims that three out of every 10 clients he sees are women. “Most women complain about how their husbands are unable to meet their sexual demands. Today, they are even ready to walk out of sexless marriages,” he adds.
Counselling psychologist and motivational coach Amanpreet Nagpal emphasises upon the need for “better communication” between couples.
“Any form of entertainment is designed for gratification. With social media, gratification is at our fingertips (literally), and sex is a bit longer process that eventually leads to pleasure. And relationships can only work when both partners choose to remain aware about it,” says Nagpal.
Five years back, social media was rarely mentioned in the context of divorce. But now it isn’t so uncommon a reason for end of a marriage. “Partners need to spend time with each as a way to relax and not replace it with other new-age digital distractions,” says Dr Chugh.
Therapists maintain that couples must not take each other for granted. “Give each other some quality time without any distraction of work, mobile, laptop. Take interest in each other’s lives and see how you can be a part of it in a more meaningful way,” says Dr Chugh.
Striking a note of caution, Dr Anand, says, “You can either make love to your phone or to your spouse. You can’t have both in your bedroom.”