We'd like to think we have complete control of our own life choices. The more personal, the more control we'd like to have. But have we become so sure of our power over our lives that we've lost sight of how influenced we are by the things around us? Every choice we make, from career path to sexual partner, is shaped in large part by our surroundings: friends, acquaintances, even our Facebook mini feeds.
In the book Connected: The Surprising Power of our Social Networks, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler claim that our social networks are "always there, exerting both subtle and dramatic influence over our choices, actions, thoughts, feelings, even our desires." If you use Facebook often, all the people you see pop up every time you log in, are possible sources of influence. Possible sources, sure, but be aware that every single one of your Facebook friends grants you a higher degree of susceptibility to whatever is flowing through the network. That is, the more connected you are, the fewer number of people something will have to "hop" through to get to you.
Here are a few specific ways Facebook can influence you IRL, including your sex life. Watch out!
What you're into
A certain sexual desire might be triggered by seeing someone else in your network express a desire for it. Emotions – including desire – are contagious in humans. According to Christakis and Fowler, "romantic and sexual practices as diverse as contraceptive use, anal sex, fertility decisions, and divorce are all strongly influenced by the existence of these behaviours within one's network." They use the example of having babies – the probability that a person will have a kid raises in the two years after their sibling does. But anyone who's had friends who have kids know that it happens in waves in certain locations, as can be seen on Facebook. The same goes for what groups of single friends are up to – where they party, how late they stay out, how many pictures of themselves they post with strangers …
How you rate yourself
The people in our social networks aren't just a source of partners or of information about partners; they also influence our ideas of how we're perceived by others, what competitive advantages we reckon we have or not. All too often, we judge ourselves attractive or not based on (what we percieve to be) "our competition". How many times have you compared yourself to a girl in a photo with your desired partner or ex? This is a slippery slope. When you find yourself doing it, stop in your tracks – comparing yourself to others is a losing game. There's no benefit whatsoever. Be conscious of your reactions when you use Facebook. Don't let someone you met once in Jr. High determine they way you feel about your body / career / love life.
How you rate others
Some people's profile pictures seem to all show a different babe in every one. If you think it's annoying, well, that those people might actually be onto something. In one study shown in the book, female subjects were proven much more likely to find a man more attractive if he was shown beside an attractive woman. The women actually judged the men as more attractive when the girlfriend was in the picture than when she was not. Huh. We're not sure who those women were, but we don't reckon we're that easily influenced … or at least, we'd like to think we're not.
Next time you scour around the wilds of Facebook, be critical of your reaction to what you see before you simpy accept it as truth, or you might end up with some crazy ideas that accompany you and your partner between the sheets. Good sex doesn't include Facebook.