Professor Paul Bloom: Sex is really strange. You ask people, "What's your favorite activity?" and if you ask people, particularly college students, particularly just fresh from spring break – I've seen teen movies – they'll often answer, "Sex." or some word that is synonymous with sex. But there's a kind of a puzzle about how much time we spend on sex. And it turns out there is data on this. So, people say sex is their favorite activity, but it turns out we actually know how much time the average American spends on sex. And the data I'm going to follow from was summarized in this wonderful book by James Gleick:
Americans tell pollsters their single favorite activity is sex. In terms of enjoyability, they rank sex ahead of sports, fishing, bar-hopping, hugging and kissing, talking with the family, eating, watching television, going on trips, planning trips, gardening, bathing, shopping, dressing, housework, dishwashing, laundry, visiting the dentist, and getting the car repaired. On the other hand, these same studies suggested the average time per day devoted to sex is four minutes and three seconds. [As Gleick says,] This is not much, even if the four minutes excludes time spent flirting, dancing, ogling, cruising the boulevard, toning up in gyms, toning up in beauty parlors, rehearsing pick up lines, showering, thinking about sex, reading about sex, doodling pornographically, looking at erotic magazines, renting videos, dreaming of sex, looking at fashion magazines, cleaning up after sex, coping with the consequences of sex, building towers or otherwise repressing, transferring, and sublimating .
And I like this passage because it illustrates two points, two important points. One is we don't actually spend that much time on sex. In fact, the four minutes and three seconds is an interesting number because when you do times studies on how much Americans spend filling out tax-related forms for the IRS, it's four minutes and a few seconds. But the passage also points out that regardless of the brute time we spend on it, it is extraordinarily important. Everything in life follows from it – marriage, family, children, much of aggression, much of competition, much of art and music and creative pursuits. Much of everything follows from it. If we were a creature without sex, everything would be different.