What's better than sex?

Food, iPhones, sleep -- you name it! A new breed of survey delights in telling us how little we care about nookie

Published July 3, 2012 3:30PM (EDT)


It often seems that there is no more desired act on earth than sex. But in recent months I’ve started to notice a contrarian phenomenon: surveys that innumerate all the things -- Facebook, sleep, bacon – that people prefer over sex. This week brought the latest of just such polls: a joint effort between Match.com and Today.com, which found that one in three singles would give up nookie for their favorite food.

I had to wonder: Why have these sex-devaluing surveys become so popular?

In part, it's good business. Take a survey finding that 43 percent of Canadians would choose bacon over sex – it was conducted by Maple Leaf Foods Inc., a bacon producer. Then there’s the one sponsored by the Better Sleep Council, a creation of the mattress industry, which found that 61 percent of American adults would choose a good night's sleep over sex. See also: a survey by mobile app company Telenav which found that -- surprise, surprise – one-third of Americans would rather go without sex than their cellphone. (On a related note, Gazelle, an electronics trade-in site, found that 15 percent of respondents would rather "give up sex than go for even a weekend without their iPhone.") Sex is the ultimate measure of desire -- so why wouldn’t a company try to position its product as shockingly even more desirable?

Of course, there’s also some reinforcement of beloved gender stereotypes going on here. Some of the surveys focus in particular on women – you know, those creatures famed for hating sex. Cosmopolitan found that one in five women would sooner give up sex than Farmville (presumably the magazine will begin selling women 101 hot new ways to win at Farmville). It's just an updated riff on the joke of "Not tonight, honey, I have a headache."

The truth is that Americans on the whole are not devaluing sex, despite headlines to the contrary. For the most part, these surveys -- which tend to be thoroughly unscientific and rely on minute samples -- find that a minority of folks would give up sex for X, Y or Z. And yet that minority makes for a great, grabby news hook, especially when the sex-trumping variable is a newfangled piece of technology. These surveys powerfully feed into our fears over the way that technology is changing our world, especially the ways we relate to one another. At the same time, they validate those of us who have felt the pull of virtual, over real-world, intimacy. (And most of us have probably spent some time on both sides of that line.)

The same is true of polls finding that food or sleep beat out getting busy. There is something so wrong about such findings, and yet so right. Sex is the ultimate celebration of life, but life itself doesn't always put you in a party mood, to say the least, or leave you with enough time to celebrate. Some of us may balk at prioritizing some shut-eye and feel better by comparison; others will let out a sigh of relief: "I'm not the only one."

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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