The first time I answered my phone mid-hookup, my boyfriend Tej didn’t seem to mind. After all, there was something recklessly hot about your girlfriend faking sick to her boss on the phone while simultaneously stifling the sounds of an early morning orgasm. The second time was his turn; a conference call scheduled expressly to be taken from home while receiving a blowjob. Not my fantasy, necessarily, but so went compromise. And thus it continued, an unspoken game we’d play in the early, hot days of our relationship, our phones presenting themselves as sexy obstacles of foreplay.
Somewhere along the way, technology stopped being just a turn-on. A glance over at a new text message became de rigeur before quickly turning the offending phone upside down out of guilt, though even that soon gave way to multi-second pauses spent answering quick phone calls from bosses, parents, and friends. The more sex we started having, the less sexy it started to become.
As anyone in a relationship can tell you, chances are high every time you lace up won’t necessarily be the 81-point game of your sexual career. But to hear Tej, my now ex-boyfriend, tell the story of the time I tweeted during sex — accidentally, involuntarily, momentarily — I may as well have forgotten to show up for the championship winning game altogether. The facts are far simpler: our eight-year on-again, off-again relationship was nearing off-again, and as such, the sex, though still good, had become routine.
“Did you just tweet during sex?!” He yelled at me as he climbed back towards the headboard.
Things were already touchy between us after he had discovered a friend of mine had mused on Twitter, “What’s worse? Dating a finance bro or one who DJs reggae music to blow off steam?” (Tej, of course, did both. In retrospect, she may have been onto something.) After a two-hour debate of why I felt the need to use Twitter at all, one that was ended only by my stripping down to a bra mid-diatribe, we’d smoothed things over; an hour after that, microblogging was a distant memory — as was my bra and everything else I had worn that night.
Which is exactly when it happened: another tweet, accompanied by that telltale text message notification. I didn’t think twice about taking a quick peek at the stack of work and personal cell phones we both now had no qualms about keeping within inches of the bed. Maybe it was because this one was yet another zinger about Tej, and I felt guilty, or maybe it was because Tej and I had just become a little too familiar with each other. Either way, it took only seconds for me to type out a quick response, one that defended the man who had currently taken up residence in a position that left me a little too hands free.
I maintain to this day that the only reason Tej was upset was because this occurred during one of the few times he voluntarily went down on me; he contends that checking my phone at all indicates how unappreciative I am of him. (Of course he pleads the fifth on the rationale behind the many, many unplanned conference call blowjobs that occurred almost monthly in our relationship.) This had become my norm: the thrill of tactile touch screens juxtaposed against the incomparable feeling of five-o-clock shadow grinding against your clit until you can’t breathe. Yet the fact that the line between glancing at a text and jumping all the way to sending a non-urgent tweet no longer existed speaks volumes. It wasn’t that I thought I could do it quickly while Tej was otherwise occupied, it’s that I didn’t think of it at all.
I might have even gotten away with it, had my iPhone being off silent for the first time in years, not given me away.
He once asked me to type out a dictated email to his coworker from his Blackberry while I was riding him to climax.
“Did you just tweet during sex?!” Tej yelled as he climbed back towards the headboard. “I heard the whoosh! I know the whoosh!” he insisted. I pulled the greatest reggae-inspired defense I could extricate from my ass at the time: it wasn’t me.
The strategy went about as well for me as it did Shaggy. For someone who had once asked me to type out a dictated email to his coworker from his Blackberry while I was riding him to climax, Tej’s interrogation was startlingly efficient as he spent the next three hours; combing through my Twitter timeline to try to make sure I hadn’t tweeted during any of the other times we’d gone ten toes to Jesus (I hadn’t); defending the art of reggae DJing (it’s about the drop); and grilling on me what the point of Twitter even was (if anyone had the answer to that, Jack Dorsey wouldn’t be running two companies right now). Given that I no longer had any clothes to remove to end arguments, the rest of the night devolved into a screaming match — an argument that started over a tweet and ended up popping the lid off of eight years of unresolved issues. We broke up shortly after.
Though I may have sent the tweet that broke the camel’s back in my relationship, I’m in good (bad) company. “I never check my phone during sex,” my friend Lydia told me over Gchat recently. “I mean, I look at it and make sure it’s not important, and maybe in a blue moon answer if it is, but I don’t check it, you know? Unless it’s important. Or quick…Fuck. I check my phone during sex. Fuuuuuuuuuuck.”
It turns out, I wasn’t alone in my sexual villainy. In 2013, a national study found that 9% of smartphone users had used their phones while having sex. In the 18 to 34 demographic alone? A staggering 20%. Unsurprisingly those numbers shoot up even further outside of the bedroom: 33% of smartphone users have used their phone on dates, 55% text and drive, and a particularly interesting 12% use their phones in the shower. The phrase nomophobia was coined to describe a fear of being away from one’s phone. Somewhere along the way, smartphones beat sex.
When I first started dating Tej, it was the same week the original iPhone came out in the summer of 2007, so it’s no surprise that looking back on our relationship, I can’t remember either of us ever being more than spitting distance from our phones. We did everything on text: made plans, canceled plans, got into fights about why Tej canceled so many plans, promised to stop fighting so much, broke up, made up, and took an absurd amount of scantily clad photos in our respective office bathrooms. Over the years, we moved to different cities while iPhone generations came and went, but we stayed in touch over text sporadically, sending up dirty flares anytime we were bored, lonely, or horny. By the time we reconnected in New York seven years later, we’d essentially lived out an entire relationship over a touchscreen.
Somewhere along the way, smartphones beat sex.
My relationship with Tej was ending regardless, but for months I was flagrantly defensive, assuring anyone who would listen that the problem was Tej’s inability to commit, not my inability to commit less to Twitter. But as our mutual anger subsided, I kept noticing how quick I was to reach for my phone to fire off a missive anytime one popped into my head. Write a good article? Share it on Twitter. Disagree with a bad opinion? Share it on Twitter. Have a great date? Share it on Twitter. Have a terrible date? Performatively share it on Twitter to soothe your bruised ego via favorites from your Internet friends. I spent so much time involuntarily perfecting the presentation of the best, most clever, meticulously curated cross-section of my life, I never realized doing so was crowding well into the time I spent living my actual life.
Whether it was latent regret or a function of growing up, I’ve since become overwhelmed by just how often I tweet and how little I remember most of what I tweet mere seconds after sending. As an experiment, I went cold turkey from Twitter for a few weeks this summer — a decision that was tough for no more than a few days, before I realized just how much more I was noticing in the world when not constantly keyed into my phone. No big reveals came from never tweeting, however, until I applied those same lessons to the bedroom.
A few weeks into the experiment, I indulged in some purposefully distraction-free sex with Jason, a man I’d been dating. It wasn’t until the twelfth time I had to stop myself from craning my neck towards the nightstand to peer at my phone that I realized Tej may have been right: I am far too dependent on staying in constant communication.
In the absence of having something to check repeatedly, I found myself looking around the room so often even Jason asked me at one point where I was. It was precisely then that I realized it wasn’t disconnecting from the world for 20 to 30 minutes that was hard; it was connecting to the person on top of me. The smartphones that bring us constant communication with our partners through never-ending texts and sexy snaps aren’t bringing us closer at all; they’re crutches. For me in particular, that smartphone offered a constant stream of validation I wasn’t getting — or allowing myself to receive — from Tej.
I’m still learning how to fully let go. Pure, unadulterated attention on another person is intense, to say the least. I’m back on Twitter, but far less so. Keeping my smartphone in another room was easy; learning to trust someone with my emotions instead of just my body has been a harder battle. Though benefits of putting my phone away, in bed and out, far outweigh the costs, I have had one pleasantly surprising takeaway from all of this: sex is at least 140 times better when you don’t bring Twitter into it.
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