Research shows social media causes sexual problems

Study gives arguably best reason yet to turn off those devices

A study by ISPA-Instituto Universitário de Lisboa has concluded that the “more compulsive” use of social media increases the likelihood of sexual problems in men and women, such as sexual dissatisfaction and erectile dysfunction”.

The study, conducted by Rui Miguel Costa, a researcher at the William James Center for Research at ISPA, concludes that “the greater the degree of dependence on social media, the greater the probability of having sexual problems“.

In men, a greater risk of erectile dysfunction and sexual dissatisfaction was found, and in women, a greater risk of difficulties in arousal and orgasm, as well as sexual dissatisfaction and pain during sexual intercourse, the researcher, who recently published the research in the scientific bulletin Journal of Sexual Medicine, told Lusa.

The study took place between 2019 and 2021 and focused on the young age group (18/30) and heterosexuals, the researcher said, adding that the sample included 1,486 participants.

Rui Miguel Costa began by explaining that, in recent years, there has been “a lot of research” showing that a very frequent use of social media causes emotional problems, anxiety, depression and loneliness.

“What is not very well known, or at least there has not been a great willingness to ask the question, is whether the very frequent use of social media also affects sexual functioning,” he said, noting that there were only two studies conducted on this subject, one in Iran and another in Poland, which found that “the very frequent use of social media was indeed associated with sexual problems”.

The study carried out in Portugal had similar objectives, trying “to understand if the more problematic, more compulsive use of social media is associated with sexual problems”, and concluded that the problem affects men and women, the researcher said, noting that previous studies had only evaluated female sexual problems.

Although the mechanisms that explain this situation are not yet clear, Rui Miguel Costa said that “something has to be investigated in the future” and that the study points to the possibility that dependence on social media reduces the attention given to the partner, creating feelings of emotional detachment, with a negative impact on their sex lives.

“It is also possible that the risk of sexual problems is increased by the stress and psychological malaise that social media sometimes generates, and these two explanations are not mutually exclusive,” he stressed.

Rui Miguel Costa said users had to moderate the use of social media and “begin to become aware that there is a toxic effect in their excessive use, as with alcohol, tobacco, which can lead to emotional disturbances, cause feelings of loneliness, even in people who have great relationships”.

“This is a very interesting phenomenon and is probably due to the fact that our brain has evolved over millions of years and is prepared to recognise a companion when it is physically present,” the researcher explained.

“By systematically insisting on trying to connect, not merely to receive and transmit information, but to have a greater ambition of social connection with others, our brain does not fully receive the information that it is with someone, and this generates feelings of loneliness, and we now know that the more people use social media, the lonelier they get, which is paradoxical,” he concluded.