How Airplanes Changed Love and Sex

Growing up, my father worked as an attorney for a computer technology company. Before that, he worked for other large tech-related corporations (first as an engineer) and he brought his love of technology home to his family. We were among the first of our friends to have a computer in our home and he was perpetually interested in new gadgets that came on the market, and what it was like to take them apart and put them back together – sometimes successfully, others not. I’m sure he would have loved to see the world as it is today, in all its megapixel-wifi-smartphone-tablet-iPad-BluRay-Netflix glory.

Though I didn’t inherit his love of taking gadgets apart and putting them together again, I did inherit his interest in technology. But for me, it’s  more about how technology fits into human lives, most notably their romantic and sexual lives. So bear with me as we explore, every Tuesday for the next month or two, how technology has changed love and sex. First up: the airplane.

In 1903, when The Wright Brothers first took to the skies in their patented “flying machine”, the Kitty Hawk, they could not possibly have imagined how air travel would one day change people’s romantic relationships and sexual lives. Air travel made it easier for newlyweds to honeymoon – and have sex in – far-flung places such as Paris, Tahiti and Rome. With the expansion of the airline industry, couples soon made a game of adding notches to their bedpost in terms of the number of cities, states or countries in which they’d had sex. It even made many relationships possible and manageable by allowing long distance lovers the ability to stay together and visit while living in different places.

Airplanes also changed the way that two people could meet. The commercialization of air travel made it possible for men and women to imagine that there could be a soul mate somewhere else in the world other than their small town or the closest big city – and that they could find them somewhat easily thanks to a weekend trip or a semester abroad. One could make dreams of meeting an attractive Frenchman or a sensuous Spanish lover real and tangible and then go out into the world to look for such a partner, taking only one day to cross oceans that once took weeks to cross by boat.

The airplane is also inextricably linked with the Mile High Club and its daring members who have somehow managed to have sex on an airplane. The type of sex undertaken on these remarkably stable flying machines is rarely specified. This leaves some prospective club members trying to figure out how to sneak into a cramped airplane bathroom for a quick and often awkward experience of intercourse. It leads others to drape a blanket or a hoodie over their laps and fondle each other during an in-flight movie somewhere over the Atlantic while other passengers are sound asleep (or secretly peeking).

Just like sex in land, sex in mid-air is best thought of with a broader perspective. Rather than tie your imagination strictly to intercourse in an airplane flat beds, why not consider:

- Genital touching (clothed or unzippered) under a sweater or hoodie draped over your lap (for consideration of other passengers, try to not use an airline’s blanket just in case you have and then spread pubic lice)

- Brushing against your partner’s body in a sexy way as you squeeze by him or her on the way to the bathroom. A little consensual frotteurism can be fun!

- Finding a reason to use the bathroom together and getting up to a little brief (people are waiting!) sex play such as breast touching, oral sex or very quick intercourse

- Read erotic stories on the plane together – silently, of course (just share a paper book in your laps or look together at your iPad or Kindle book) – as a way of building arousal for what might happen when you get off the plane.

- Watch porn together to build arousal for later on – not on your laptop or any large tablet device, though (could be disturbing to other passengers and possibly you could get into trouble with the airline). Instead, watch some on a small mp3 device (such as an iPod Nano equipped with video or a smart phone). Maybe it’s a professional video or make it’s one you’ve taken and stored on the device yourself. Just please be considerate of others – make sure to keep the volume down or turn it off entirely. Also, ensure that your video isn’t visible by others such as your seatmate or whoever may be peering from the row behind you. If children are seated anywhere near you, it’s probably best to not watch at all, just in case they somehow try to sneak a peek.

- Lay your head in your partner’s lap for a little rest. Even the mere suggestion of oral sex is a lovely turn-on for some.

- If you’re seated apart, make use of in-flight Wi-Fi, which an increasing number of airplanes have. You can both long onto iChat or gchat or whatever chat service you use and send flirtatious messages to each other via your laptops or wifi enabled smartphones.

Debby Herbenick, PhD is a sex researcher and educator, a widely read sex columnist and author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. Follow her on Twitter@mysexprofessor.

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at