Aspen Ideas: Sex and technology in America today |

Aspen Ideas: Sex and technology in America today

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg and chief scientific advisor Helen Fisher lead the discussion, “What Is Technology's Toll on Intimacy?,” moderated by Hatch Beauty chair Christie Hefner (far right) at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
Dan Bayer/The Aspen Institute |

The more time Tinder users spend on the dating app, the less likely they are to meet someone, Chief Scientific Adviser Helen Fisher said before an audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Thursday.

“You get so many choices that you choose none at all,” said Fisher, who also serves as a senior research fellow at The Kinsey Institute and has written six best-selling books on love and sex. “That’s the biggest problem in dating today.”

Fisher and Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist and best-selling author, lead the discussion “What Is Technology’s Toll on Intimacy?” moderated by Hatch Beauty chairwoman and former Playboy Enterprises CEO Christie Hefner.

Klinenberg and Fisher both agreed that the infinite pool of prospects via online dating sites and apps has both changed and complicated modern dating.

“Courtship is changing in America. There’s no doubt about it.”Helen chief scientific adviser

First in that it results in peoples’ “cognitive overload,” as Fisher pointed out, which leads them to feel so overwhelmed with options that they make no selection at all.

Through her research, Fisher said she has found that most people are only able to cope with between five and nine potential matches” at any given time.

Furthermore, this excess of options available at our fingertips has lead many to give up on a person much faster or sooner than they would have in a time before smartphones and swiping right.

“You essentially have a 24/7 singles bar in your pocket,” Klinenberg said, noting that once upon a time, you had to go to a specific place at a specific time to meet people.

“Courtship is changing in America,” Fisher said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

What’s also shifted is our societal view of marriage and divorce, Fisher said.

Today, more than 50 percent of Americans have had a one-night stand, engaged in a friends-with-benefits relationship and have lived with a significant other long-term before getting married, she said.

But what Fisher said she found most staggering is the near 70 percent of people in a long-term, live-in relationship that reported not getting married because they are “terrified” of divorcing.

Fisher said she believes this is a result of both the social stigma and economic repercussions of divorce in today’s society.

“Marriage used to be the beginning of a relationship,” she said. “Now, it’s the finale.”

While technology has changed modern courtship and marriage, Fisher said one thing that “can’t and won’t” ever change is humans’ sense of love.

Fisher explained that love is an outcome of the human brain’s three systems — sex desire, feelings of intense romance and deep attachment — which are, and always will be, biologically evolved sensations.


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