Is Facebook an alternative to sex?

A couple of provocative studies have been making the rounds lately.  Each compares Facebook usage to sex, and I find the comparison quite odd.  In a University of Canterbury study, respondents disclosed that sex makes them happy and Facebook doesn’t.  In a University of Chicago study, respondents disclosed that social networks are as addictive as sex or cigarettes.  As you would expect each study got a ton of press.

This may be a little naive of me, but when did Facebook become an alternative to sex?  Of course I mean this facetiously since comparing Facebook to sex is pretty useless.

Indian food or talking on the telephone?

I love Indian food.  The allure of palak paneer prepared as spicy as a restaurant can prepare it is about as close to perfection as I can imagine.  Yet I love talking to friends on the telephone as well.  In the moment if I had to choose I might choose to eat my favorite Indian dish over chatting on the telephone, but is there anything actionable or informing about that information? Would there be if there were thousands of people with my proclivity?

The point is, comparing sex to Facebook is like comparing apples to elevators.  You can spend your time eating apples or riding elevators, but the experience of one relative to another is uninformative.

Propagation of the species will continue, so what’s the real question?

Studies like this get a lot of attention because sex carries a bit of taboo and allure, and because social media is the newest way that we communicate.  But  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that people will still keep having sex and communicating on social networks despite any evidence of their comparative hierarchical status.

For businesses and people who seek to understand social media,  how social intercourse pleases us relative to traditional intercourse is a non-sequitur.  A more relevant question is probably to understand which platforms are growing and shrinking.  For instance is television audience eroding?  How many people are watching television with two screens?  What social platforms are different audiences using to communicate socially?  How many people are using mobile relative to traditional screens?  And the list of qualitatively better questions goes on.

I understand that incorporating sex into nearly everything increases the likelihood that someone will read an article or study.  But there are questions of far greater significance to be asked and answered – and meditating on the meaning of personal affinity towards unrelated events is silly.

Or to put it more succinctly – sex isn’t an alternative to Facebook, but for Gen Z Tumblr and Instagram may be.  While that’s not as titillating, it’s much more useful.

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • Homer Joyce

    Perhaps a lot of people find Facebook a substitute for sex (as opposed to an alternative), because they’re not getting any.

    • Robin E. Thornton

      This might, indeed, be the case, Homer. When you have time on your hands…

      • jimdougherty


    • jimdougherty

      That’s a fair point, although I’d hope that these researchers would ferret out people with limited choices! :)

  • Rebecca Amy Todd

    I do believe that people are using FB and other social media to substitute for the real human connection that comes along with the act of sex. I have seen people sadly swap out a real, in-person, sexual, loving, romantic relationship for their FB girlfriends or twitter crushes. So to me, in this way, yes, some people are using FB to get that connection piece, which is what most people are looking for when they have sex.

    • jimdougherty

      Wow, Rebecca – that’s an insight that I didn’t expect. Maybe I could put a finer point on it and say that I hope social networks aren’t a replacement for the physical act of sex. As for relationship dynamics, I don’t think there’s any question that social media has changed that in many ways. I also love your point about connection being the goal of sex – I wonder if the type of communication that Facebook warrants actually makes us less capable of achieving a genuine connectedness? Amazing comment, Rebecca – than you so much for reading and sharing!