There’s a new iPhone app called Spreadsheets that, by measuring your movement and noise level in bed, will give you a readout of your sexual activity by the numbers. According to an email pitch I received, “Spreadsheets has found a way to track users sexual activities in a fun, witty and unique way. We hope to revolutionize sex while encouraging growth and fun inside the bedroom.” I’m all for using new positions, locations, props, sex toys and apps to improve a person’s sex life, but I have to question their standards of what makes for a good sex life. Is it quantity or quality? Is it something that can be measured in metrics?
There are so many assumptions that go into Spreadsheets’ idea of “good” sex. They measure amount of sexual activity per month, number of thrusts, duration of a given sex session and decibel peak. For those who want to capture these measurements (with the option of sharing them on Facebook or Twitter), great. But I’m concerned that, in a culture that too often implies that the more sex you’re having, the happier you are, we assume that everyone’s erotic pleasure boils down to the exact same data points.
I purchased the app for $1.99, but forgot to turn it on during sex, and wasn’t about to interrupt our session. There’s not really a sexy way to say, “Excuse me while I set my iPhone on the bed so it can measure your performance.” I did, however, test it out with my favorite vibrator, the Hitachi Magic Wand, which clocked in at 97 decibels and 250 thrusts per minute!
All joking aside, the fact is, I don’t care how many times per month I have sex, as long as both my partner and I are sufficiently satisfied, whether that’s from sexual activity with each other or masturbation, or a combination of the two. I’d rather have amazing, mindblowing sex once a week than so-so sex every day. Now, I’m not saying those are the only options, for me or anyone else. But I am one of those people whose sex drive varies wildly over the course of a given week or month. There are plenty of days (and nights) when I’m either focused on other things, or just not in the mood. Sometimes I can get in the mood, whether by consciously setting aside whatever else I’m thinking about, or if my partner wants to fool around. Other times, I’d rather watch TV or play Wii bowling or read. One activity isn’t better or worse than the other.
As for number of thrusts, I don’t know anyone who measures intercourse based on number of thrusts. Why? Because everyone’s different. Some people might prefer long, drawn-out sex sessions, while some might prefer shorter, more intense bursts of activity. Some might prefer one or the other at different moments. Also: thrusting is just one of an extremely large group of activities that can constitute “sex.” What about oral sex and handjobs—let alone kinky activities like spanking and bondage or applying nipple clamps? Sure, spanking might make the bed bounce and make noise, but as someone who likes getting and giving spankings, I can definitely tell you that sometimes less is more.
I think the measurement that most bothers me, though, is decibel peak. The implication is that the more noise you make in bed, the better a time you’re having. For me this is definitely not the case. Sometimes I’m loud, but plenty of other times my quietness is what signals I’m truly into the moment. Maybe I’m gritting my teeth or holding my breath, letting it out in a slow hiss. Maybe a hand is covering my mouth or I’m biting down on a pillow to keep from making noise. Maybe I’m moaning around whatever’s in my mouth. A common scenario: I’m whispering, trying to sound sexy, and my boyfriend asks me, “What did you say?”
Realizing that I’m often more fulfilled when I’m quiet than when I’m loud is an interesting contrast to the fact that I enjoy getting verbal feedback from sexual partners. When they’re quiet, I start to wonder what they’re thinking, if they like what we’re doing, if they would rather try something else but just aren’t speaking up. Maybe I’m the one ruining the moment when I ask for feedback.
Then again, sometimes I like to hear myself or my partner talk, even if the words or noises themselves are besides the point. Hearing someone’s breathing change in a way that you know means their arousal has shifted can be a huge turn-on, but I have a feeling that’s not something you can measure in an app—at least, not without having a device literally strapped to your body. Measuring noise alone doesn’t tell us what kinds of noises people are making, or what they signify.
Guys Gab calls Spreadsheets “like Foursquare for sex,” which is valid considering you can unlock badges like “Proud Moment” (for your first share on Facebook or Twitter), “Dreidel Dreidel” (sex during Hannukah), and “The Lion’s Roar” (in excess of 70 decibels), “F Cancer” (21 times per month). It’s a cute idea, and if it gives couples an opportunity to joke around and add some fun to their sex life, that’s great.
But I think it’s a mistake to promote the idea that more sex, in and of itself, means better sex. It could, but that’s not necessarily the case. AsThe Art of Sleeping Alone author Sophie Fontanel wrote recently in The New York Times, “We are not machines. Nothing is so tidy about our sex lives. We are very alone in how we dream. We are not making love as easily as we boast we are. And when we are making love, it is not always enjoyable.” Her way of dealing with that mismatch was to be abstinent for 12 years. I’m not saying others should necessarily follow in her footsteps, but I do think we could all benefit from coming up with our own metrics of what makes sex good and then focus on enhancing those qualities.
Figuring out your own unique set of data points for “good sex” may be more challenging than following someone else’s, but I believe it yields more rewards. The fact is, there have been times when phone sex plus dirty emails and texts had me far more aroused than plenty of the in-person sex I’ve had, because I was in sync with the person I was corresponding with. That’s not what we’re taught to believe makes for erotic fulfillment, but to me it’s what makes sex so special.
I guess my point, which I realize risks making me sound like a Luddite, is that ultimately, the very personal ways sex affects us means data like number of sex acts, how long they last and how much noise you make only tells part of the story. It provide numbers, but not nuance. The latter is what you have to bring to sex, and to me, it’s the best part.