This past Sunday, my boyfriend and I watched six consecutive episodes of Sex and the City, and somewhere between Carrie realizing Berger sucks at sex, Berger getting jealous of Carrie’s literary success, and us resembling slugs on the couch, I couldn’t help but wonder: Is watching a TV show about sex the same thing as having it?
I blame Darren Star for that lede. My brain is poisoned! But the idea that TV and intimacy are occasionally at odds has been on my mind a lot. Avi isn’t much for binge-watching, which means Sunday was a fluke, but it’s not hard for me to imagine an alternative scenario. I’ve been in a relationship where nightly TV was more than a habit; it was a pillar of our connection, bringing us equal parts glee and guilt. As binge-watching increasingly becomes the norm, I’m curious how many people have traded good conversation, great sex and a full night’s rest for just one more episode.
After a cursory query on Instagram as to whether Netflix is changing modern love, I learned that many people are actively navigating their habits. “Not sure if it’s Netflix, streaming, or just TV in general, but it definitely causes us to stay up late, then by the time we get in bed we have no energy for sex,” said one.
“My partner and I noticed [Netflix] had become an issue when it came to intimacy,” said another. “We were mindlessly watching anything and everything when we realized our sex life had been dead for an unusually long time. This was a while ago. We’re still working on it.”
But amid the hundreds of replies that read like confessions (“It’s transformed from being an infrequent and fun activity into being a weird pseudo-addiction”), were several other popular takes, like that watching Netflix is a way to bond, spark interesting conversation, or simply unwind together at the end of the day. “It’s so intimate in how beautifully ordinary it is to form a habit with someone,” someone wrote.
Many referred to shows-over-dinner as a “nightly ritual” or “a bad habit.” Others said Netflix has held their relationships together, for better (“Hate-watching Riverdale together is what keeps the 7 year relationship going most weekdays”), worse (“With my last boyfriend, Netflix filled a void where our common interests should have been),” or worst (“Me and my ex used to do nothing but watch Netflix. We broke up last year and I literally haven’t watched since.”)
I often wonder if this was the case in my last (and longest) relationship, which I cherish to this day, but which at times lacked a certain depth. Things like having our shows and buying a car and getting a cat kept us in this fun we’re-a-team life loop and pushed some of our more fundamental differences into the background. Ultimately those resurfaced, and in hindsight, I think binge-watching Netflix played a part in that delay. But that’s not to say it wasn’t fun, and didn’t at times bring us together. “It’s the best and coziest iteration of book club,” as one person put it.
My original hypothesis — that Netflix (and the like) might be usurping more traditional forms of intimacy — was confirmed by many. “For my husband and me it’s a decision: We are either going to have sex or watch Netflix,” said one.
My favorite revelations, though, were the less expected ways in which streaming is affecting relationships:
Exhibit A. “It’s made me question loyalty when my partner watches ahead in a series without me.”
B. “My ex’s total inability to pick a show broke us. Taking 1 hour to choose is not normal.”
C. “Shows we enjoy together are like sex and shows we watch privately are like masturbation.”
D. “I once told him the internet at my place was down and his response was ‘Then there’s no point in me coming if we can’t continue our show.’”
E. “I only binge when he’s not around. I don’t know what that says about our relationship.”
F. “Netflix has made marriage a complex minefield requiring the assistance of a couples therapist.”
Of course, this isn’t just about Netflix, Hulu and HBO GO. Cable TV started infringing upon private time long before streaming services were shoving new shows down our gullets like they’re hot dogs and we’re *Googles hot-dog-eating champion* Joey Chestnut. But there does seem to be something distinctly libido-killing about clicking “Next Episode” more than once in a single sitting. Even if it’s done with enthusiasm.
There’s infinite more ways to unpack this (should I write a book?), but I’ll leave you with a question instead: How have streaming services like Netflix changed your relationships? Eager to discuss.
Illustrations by Alice Meteignier.