Released later this month is the Jennifer Garner vehicle Men, Women & Children, a film that looks at the lengths parents can go to to protect their children from the dangers of an over-sexualised internet landscape. Yes, it's receiving somewhat bad reviews, but these shouldn't negate this timely film and its core themes. Namely, what is the internet doing to our relationships and sex lives?
Garner plays an overzealous mother who vets every text message and scrutinises every keyboard stroke her teenage daughter makes. Unnecessary and an invasion of privacy likely to send one's child spiralling into rebellion, yes. But Garner's character's intentions are there: she just wants to protect her child from early exposure to hyper-sexuality.
I say "hyper" because the internet not does present sexuality as it appears in real life. Online pornography - most people's first exposure to sex these days - is rough, unsentimental, and usually misogynistic, while Snapchat relies on a culture of coercion to send your best angle. Real life sexual encounters are not about any of these things, but what the internet presents them as normal.
Society has always been fascinated by sex, and the internet gives us insight into previously unheard of sexual practices, portraying them as standard conduct. The pre-web bedroom possibilities were a lot more puritanical than they are now - which, on the one hand, is a good thing because it enables people to explore. But on the other hand, it corrupts us, and leads us to expect things of our partners that would never have been considered if they'd not been first seen through a small window in an internet browser.
The flow-on effect? Through the internet's (largely unintentional) social engineering, our perspectives on normal sexuality are altered. We start to believe it's actually acceptable to have power-hungry, ultra-explicit sex, and the concept of love has nothing to do with it.
Moreover, we're feeling the pressure to turn our bodies into porno-ready physical machines. A Cosmopolitan survey from earlier this year revealed 75 per cent of men want their female partners to look the same as the porn stars they enjoy watching, while men themselves are falling prey to the "spornosexual" revolution (a body-obsessed trend that sees them replicate their physicality to follow their porn and sporting idols, in the style of hairless, over-tanned, Georgie Shore lads).
None of this is helped by modern celebrities: the Kim Kardashians and Cristiano Ronaldos of the world. These people don't look like TV stars or football heroes. They look like porn stars. As they tweet images of their unfathomably pert bums and ultra-taut abs they send us all a message: look like us, and you'll get lots of sex, too. Retweet, repost, reblog... the internet sends this message around the world to the impressionable (and not just the young).
The internet set us up for disappointment; both in ourselves, and in our relationships. The modern relationship doesn't really evolve offline anymore. It's facilitated by text messages, Facebook, and Instagram; Tinder, Grindr, and Blendr: the online mechanisms we now use to entice, woo, and present the best versions of ourselves to a potential mate. So, when it comes to real life interactions, we feel bound by the "products" we've sold ourselves as; hideously afraid we will not live up to expectations.
Of course, we won't live up to expectations. What we present online is too much effort to sustain outside of a snapshot or short video. Similarly, our own expectations won't be met. It's a vicious cycle where everyone ends up with low self esteem about who they are, or rather, who they're not.
While the internet is hyper-sexualising us, it's also causing us to lose our libidos. Confusing, right? Various US studies have found that overexposure to the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is activated by the brain as the body's natural reaction to sexual pleasure, has a "sex-negative" effect. That is, the brain loses its ability to respond to dopamine signals in reality because it has been overstimulated via regular consumption of sexual content on the internet.
Basically, that means you struggle to get it up in real life because you've seen it online too many times. It's like being addicted to drugs: you're always chasing a thrill, but are continually left unsatisfied because you need something more extreme than the last time.
There's an argument out there that the internet enables us to enlighten ourselves, have frank discussions on sex we're afraid to have in person, and transform our sexualities so we're open-minded individuals with yearnings and fetishes that are celebrated, not feared.
I'm not sure I buy that. Most of us are not "enlightened" enough to understand that slowly but surely, we're preferring the virtual over the real, and that open-mindedness damages what we should realistically expect from our sex lives and relationships. Perhaps its time we become our own Jennifer Garners, and cut ourselves off from internet-facilitated hyper-sexuality altogether. After all, there's surely enough non-sexual stuff online to keep us busy.