Content note: This article contains explicit sexual language.
Sex has as many definitions as there are people talking about it.
So I was curious which definition Paul Greenberg was using when he wrote for the New York Times opinion page that “if you gave up your [smartphone] device for a year, you would have time to make love about 16,000 times (assuming you’re like most Americans and your lovemaking sessions last an average of 5.4 minutes, not counting foreplay).”
Greenberg did not cite his particular source, but it took me approximately 5.4 minutes (on my phone no less) to find the study he was likely referring to. In 2005, the Journal of Sexual Medicine published “A multinational population survey of intravaginal ejaculation latency time.” Male-female couples from five countries were asked to time themselves (with a stopwatch) having sex from “the start of vaginal intromission” to “the start of intravaginal ejaculation.” I’m sure you have no problem parsing the scientific jargon, but to make everything very clear: couples timed how long it would take from the moment the man’s penis entered the woman’s vagina to the moment the man began to orgasm. This period is what the title referred to: the “intravaginal ejaculation latency time,” or IELT.
Get the facts, direct to your inbox.
Subscribe to our daily or weekly digest.
Among 500 couples, across five countries, the median IELT was 5.4 minutes.
Paul Greenberg used simple math in his article to conclude: If the average smartphone-owning American spends 1,460 hours a year on the device, and “lovemaking,” as he calls it, takes an average of 5.4 minutes, then we could make love 16,000 times a year if only we’d put down our darn phones.
16,000 times a year. Nearly 44 times a day. Of 5.4 minute intervals of intravaginal ejaculation latency time. Ah yes, what a pleasant alternative to connecting with our friends and family through our phones, to learning about the world around us, to looking into the science behind foolish opinion pieces that rely on false equivalencies that erase LGBTQ people and capitalize on rhetoric used by incels.
Greenberg’s piece is full of these philosophical shortcuts. He claims you could use the money an average smartphone costs to buy a half-acre of land (“in most Western states”) and plant it with trees. Ana Mardoll connects this assertion to the ecological devastation of the American Prairie through the 1800s, during which many white homesteaders cleared the land of native grasses to plant non-native trees which failed to thrive, disrupting the important balance of the prairie. Greenberg also claims that not purchasing phones for a lifetime would add up to $1.3 million in retirement savings, if invested at an annual return rate of 4 percent. But the New York Times itself has myth-busted this type of anti-millennial avocado-toasting, and what would the opportunity cost be for a 21st-century employee who didn’t have a phone? Surely far higher than Greenberg’s $1,380 a year.
Greenberg claims we could push for voter reform, as if the incredible wins against gerrymandering in 2018 didn’t include texting, phone donations, and comprehensive social media campaigns. And he claims we could rid the ocean of plastic waste if only we devoted the time and money spent on phones to conservation, ignoring the fact that one of the largest sources of oceanic pollution is industrial chemical runoff (according to an archived page from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, no longer available due to a lack of appropriations at the federal level).
And of course, the sex. Or “lovemaking.” Or IELT.
When Greenberg uses the moment of vaginal penetration by a penis to the moment of ejaculation as a proxy for sex, or, as he refers to it, “lovemaking,” he is erasing women, LGBTQ people, and our pleasure. He is implying that when we use our phones, we are denying men the opportunity for an IELT. I hear the echoes of incel rhetoric.
(I don’t even need to address the obvious shortcomings in Greenberg’s failure to use research that looks at the differences in duration of intimacy and achievement of orgasm among different genders and sexual orientations.)
In his article, Greenberg adopts the same misogynist rhetoric that incels use to justify their disdain for women. “[W]hile these devices affect both men and women,” says a blog post titled “8 Things that Make Girls Stupid and Useless,” “it seems to be having a worse impact on women who seem to have merged with the machine to become one with it. Much like crack addicts, women who are addicted to their phones are irritable and short-tempered as anything that distracts them from their phones is seen as an annoyance.”
Daryush Valizadeh (who founded the site on which the above blog post is featured) shared one of his famous anecdotes on his personal website in 2013, about two women who are addicted to their devices. “From the beginning of their lunch date until the end, a total of 52 photos were taken. Sixteen of those photos would be uploaded to various sites to garner a total of 48 likes, comments, and retweets [….] Not a bad haul for a Saturday afternoon, Madison thought proudly.”
The implication in these screeds, and occasionally the overt message, is that if only women would put down their phones, they might want to have sex with the men whom they had been overlooking for their devices. Maybe they’d want to have sex approximately 44 times per day.
While this may seem a stretch, incel misogyny has led to dozens of deaths in mass shootings across North America. After Alek Minassian drove his van into a crowded street in Toronto, Valizadeh wrote: “Alek Minnasian [sic] wouldn’t have killed people with a van if the media had not inoculated him and other lonely men against effective game teachers like myself. Sleeping with only two or three Toronto Tinder sluts would have been enough to stop his urge to kill.”
Vilazadeh’s website Return of Kings is designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which reports that Vilazadeh, also known as Roosh, has advocated for the legalization of rape on private property and the repeal of women’s suffrage.
If Vilazadeh’s legalization of rape, or perhaps his plea for “Toronto Tinder sluts” to sleep with incels to prevent mass murders, sounds familiar, it might be because you read another New York Times opinion column from May 2018, in which Ross Douthat explores the idea of a “redistribution” of sex. “[A]s offensive or utopian the redistribution of sex might sound, the idea is entirely responsive to the logic of late-modern sexual life, and its pursuit would be entirely characteristic of a recurring pattern in liberal societies.”
The problem is of course, that “sex,” “lovemaking,” and IELT all imply the participation of more than one person, and neither Douthat, nor Vilazadeh, nor Minassian, nor Greenberg give those other participants a moment of thought.
The only contribution these fluff pieces make to the public discourse is to reinforce misogyny. Opinion writers, particularly those in the New York Times, owe readers more than an incel’s dream.