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Durham University

Department of Sociology

Completed Projects

The Role of Smartphones and Technology in Sexual and Romantic Lives

A research project of the Department of Sociology.


Technology has revolutionised our lives. From free texts to dating and hook-up apps, technology, and specifically smartphones, are transforming the dynamics of our sexuality in contemporary culture. This research, funded by Durex, examined the impact of technology and smartphones on romance, intimacy and sex for people in long-term relationships. Using in-depth, qualitative interviews with 30 people from a diverse range of backgrounds across England, this research shows that while smartphones are central to contemporary romantic relationships, they are also a cause of stress and tension. These tensions can be subtle and complex, but have the potential to negatively impact on relationships if they are not dealt with. While participants had strategies to deal with some of these issues, there was also dissatisfaction with the use of smartphones in their lives.


To understand the role of technology in heterosexual couples’ romantic relationships


In-depth interviews were undertaken in February 2015 with 30 people from across England. Participants were aged 18-55, and were required to have been in a relationship for at least one year. All participants were heterosexual, and there were a diverse make up in terms of class, ethnicity, age and educational background. Ethical approval was gained from Durham University, and the full report can be found at Durham Research Online.


Couples today use technology, particularly smartphones, to keep in touch – not just to organise the logistics of daily life like cooking and cleaning, but also for the emotional work of caring and comforting. Participants spoke of the importance of texts and phone calls - short communications to check the day was going ok or reminding their partners they were loved. It is also a central part of leisure time, arranging trips and dinners out or spicing up sex lives through flirtatious messages or erotic pictures and videos. Yet for all the benefits, there are still tensions that are fostered by technology, and smartphones in particular. While people develop strategies to deal with these issues, there is a role for technological innovations to help ameliorate these problems. 


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