How Alarm Clocks Changed Sex

Who would have thought such a tiny bedside gadget could change sex so dramatically?

Early methods of telling the time, such as the sundial, provided only approximate estimations of time and worked only during the day or in sunny weather. And although clocks were produced and improved upon throughout the 13th century, it was not until the 15th and 16th century that, in various parts of Europe, minute- and second-hands with reasonable accuracy were developed. However, it was the alarm clock – invented in 1876 by the Seth Thomas Clock Company – that threw sex on its head.

A key characteristic of the alarm clock invention is that it was to be positioned right by a person’s bed, which was quite different than grandfather clocks in the hallway, bell towers of a distant church or a pocket watch that one might wear during the day, tucked away in a coat or suit pocket. Its bedside placement meant that the time could be easily seen from the one place in the house where sex most commonly occurs.

The placement of the alarm clock coupled with its large face or, in later models, its digital read-out, meant that the time was also newly easy to read. One no longer needed to find and flip open a pocket watch or look around the room for the clock on the wall. The invention of the alarm clock was, in hindsight, a pivotal moment in the history of sex. For the first time, the time it took to have sex – from first kiss to last thrust – was visibly and clearly on display right where people have most of their sex.

As such, people began to become acutely aware of how much or how little time they spent having sex. Men and women now knew just how long it took them to do it which set the stage for performance anxieties, such as premature ejaculation and orgasms that take forever, that continue to this day. The bedside alarm clock also highlight, for many couples, how quickly foreplay comes and goes. On the fun side, it also enabled multiply orgasmic women to figure out how many orgasms they were capable of in an hour. Men who could orgasm and then come again were also able to set new personal, measurable records.

The alarm clock further changed sex because it introduced a harsh way to wake up in the morning. The rude awakening of often annoying sounds did not set the stage for romance or gentle kisses or sexual acts to wake one’s lover up from their sleep. However, it did create the perfect trigger to get rid of an unwanted one-night stand first thing before breakfast.

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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