Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex? America is in a Sex Recession – by K. Jullian – via The Atlantic
(Link): Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex? America is in a Sex Recession – via The Atlantic
These should be boom times for sex.
The share of Americans who say sex between unmarried adults is “not wrong at all” is at an all-time high. New cases of HIV are at an all-time low. Most women can—at last—get birth control for free, and the morning-after pill without a prescription.
If hookups are your thing, Grindr and Tinder offer the prospect of casual sex within the hour. The phrase If something exists, there is porn of it used to be a clever internet meme; now it’s a truism.
BDSM plays at the local multiplex—but why bother going? Sex is portrayed, often graphically and sometimes gorgeously, on prime-time cable. Sexting is, statistically speaking, normal.
…But despite all this, American teenagers and young adults are having less sex.
To the relief of many parents, educators, and clergy members who care about the health and well-being of young people, (Link):teens are launching their sex lives later …
…Over the past few years, Jean M. Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, has published research exploring how and why Americans’ sex lives may be ebbing.
…People now in their early 20s are two and a half times as likely to be abstinent as Gen Xers were at that age; 15 percent report having had no sex since they reached adulthood.
…Gen Xers and Baby Boomers may also be having less sex today than previous generations did at the same age. From the late 1990s to 2014, Twenge found, drawing on data from the General Social Survey, the average adult went from having sex 62 times a year to 54 times. A given person might not notice this decrease, but nationally, it adds up to a lot of missing sex.
…Fisher, like many other experts, attributes the sex decline to a decline in couplehood among young people. For a quarter century, fewer people have been marrying, and those who do have been marrying later.
At first, many observers figured that the decline in marriage was explained by an increase in unmarried cohabitation—yet the share of people living together hasn’t risen enough to offset the decline in marriage: About 60 percent of adults under age 35 now live without a spouse or a partner.
One in three adults in this age range live with their parents, making that the most common living arrangement for the cohort.
People who live with a romantic partner tend to have sex more than those who don’t—and living with your parents is obviously bad for your sex life. But this doesn’t explain why young people are partnering up less to begin with.
…Maybe more people are prioritizing school or work over love and sex, at least for a time, or maybe they’re simply being extra deliberate in choosing a life partner—and if so, good for them.
…. Still, a handful of suspects came up again and again in my interviews and in the research I reviewed—and each has profound implications for our happiness.
[The article goes on to mention that other nations are also experiencing a decline in people having sex, but also a rise in masturbation – people are engaging in sexual activity, but not with another person]
…The recession metaphor is imperfect, of course. Most people need jobs; that’s not the case with relationships and sex. I talked with plenty of people who were single and celibate by choice.
Even so, I was amazed by how many 20-somethings were deeply unhappy with the sex-and-dating landscape; over and over, people asked me whether things had always been this hard. Despite the diversity of their stories, certain themes emerged.
….So what thwarted teen romance? Adolescence has changed so much in the past 25 years that it’s hard to know where to start.
As (Link): Jean Twenge wrote in The Atlantic last year, the percentage of teens who report going on dates has decreased alongside the percentage who report other activities associated with entering adulthood, like drinking alcohol, working for pay, going out without one’s parents, and getting a driver’s license.
…3. The Tinder Mirage
At least among people who don’t use dating apps, the perception exists that they facilitate casual sex with unprecedented efficiency.
In reality, unless you are exceptionally good-looking, the thing online dating may be best at is sucking up large amounts of time.
As of 2014, when Tinder last released such data, the average user logged in 11 times a day. Men spent 7.2 minutes per session and women spent 8.5 minutes, for a total of about an hour and a half a day. Yet they didn’t get much in return.
Today, the company says it logs 1.6 billion swipes a day, and just 26 million matches.
And, if Simon’s experience is any indication, the overwhelming majority of matches don’t lead to so much as a two-way text exchange, much less a date, much less sex.
When I talked with Simon, he was seven months into a relationship with a new girlfriend, whom he’d met through another online-dating service. He liked her, and was happy to be on hiatus from Tinder. “It’s like howling into the void for most guys,” he explained, “and like searching for a diamond in a sea of dick pics for most girls.”
So why do people continue to use dating apps? Why not boycott them all? Simon said meeting someone offline seemed like less and less of an option. His parents had met in a chorus a few years after college, but he couldn’t see himself pulling off something similar….
At first, I wondered whether Simon was being overly genteel, or a little paranoid.
But the more people I talked with, the more I came to believe that he was simply describing an emerging cultural reality. “No one approaches anyone in public anymore,” said a teacher in Northern Virginia.
“The dating landscape has changed. People are less likely to ask you out in real life now, or even talk to begin with,” said a 28-year-old woman in Los Angeles who volunteered that she had been single for three years
…How could various dating apps be so inefficient at their ostensible purpose—hooking people up—and still be so popular?
For one thing, lots of people appear to be using them as a diversion, with limited expectations of meeting up in person.
As Iris, who’s 33, told me bitterly, “They’ve gamified interaction. The majority of men on Tinder just swipe right on everybody. They say yes, yes, yes to every woman.”
Stories from other app users bear out the idea of apps as diversions rather than matchmakers. “Getting right-swiped is a good ego boost even if I have no intention of meeting someone,” one man told me. A 28-year-old woman said that she persisted in using dating apps even though she had been abstinent for three years, a fact she attributed to depression and low libido: “I don’t have much inclination to date someone.”
“After a while it just feels exactly the same as getting good at a bubble-popping game. I’m happy to be good at it, but what am I really achieving?” said an app user who described herself as abstinent by choice.
Another woman wrote that she was “too lazy” to meet people, adding:
“I usually download dating apps on a Tuesday when I’m bored, watching TV … I don’t try very hard.” Yet another woman said that she used an app, but only “after two glasses of white wine—then I promptly delete it after two hours of fruitless swiping.”
….4. Bad Sex (Painfully Bad)
One especially springlike morning in May, as Debby Herbenick and I walked her baby through a park in Bloomington, Indiana, she shared a bit of advice she sometimes offers students at Indiana University, where she is a leading sex researcher.
“If you’re with somebody for the first time,” she said evenly, “don’t choke them, don’t ejaculate on their face, don’t try to have anal sex with them. These are all things that are just unlikely to go over well.”
I’d sought out Herbenick in part because I was intrigued by (Link): an article she’d written for The Washington Post proposing that the sex decline might have a silver lining.
Herbenick had asked whether we might be seeing, among other things, a retreat from coercive or otherwise unwanted sex.
Just a few decades ago, after all, marital rape was still legal in many states.
As she pushed her daughter’s stroller, she elaborated on the idea that some of the sex recession’s causes could be a healthy reaction to bad sex—a subset of people “not having sex that they don’t want to have anymore. People feeling more empowered to say ‘No thanks.’ ”
…Some of herbenick’s most sobering research concerns the prevalence of painful sex. In 2012, 30 percent of women said they’d experienced pain the last time they’d had vaginal intercourse; during anal intercourse, 72 percent had.
Whether or not these rates represent an increase (we have no basis for comparison), they are troublingly high.
Moreover, most women don’t tell their partners about their pain. J. Dennis Fortenberry, the chief of adolescent medicine at Indiana University’s medical school and a co-leader of the NSSHB, believes that many girls and women have internalized the idea that physical discomfort goes with being female.
…Painful sex is not new, but there’s reason to think that porn may be contributing to some particularly unpleasant early sexual experiences.
Studies show that, in the absence of high-quality sex education, teen boys look to porn for help understanding sex—anal sex and other acts women can find painful are ubiquitous in mainstream porn. (This isn’t to say that anal sex has to be painful, but rather that the version most women are experiencing is.)
…In my interviews with young women, I heard too many iterations to count of “he did something I didn’t like that I later learned is a staple in porn,” choking being one widely cited example.
…As Marina Adshade, a professor at the University of British Columbia who studies the economics of sex and love, said to me, “Men have bad sex and good sex. But when sex is bad for women, it’s really, really bad. If women are avoiding sex, are they trying to avoid the really bad sex?”
…Learning sex in the context of one-off hookups isn’t helping either. Research suggests that, for most people, casual sex tends to be less physically pleasurable than sex with a regular partner.
….In my interviews, inhibition seemed a constant companion to many people who’d been abstinent for a long time. Most of them described abstinence not as something they had embraced (due to religious belief, say) so much as something they’d found themselves backed into as a result of trauma, anxiety, or depression.
Dispiritingly but unsurprisingly, sexual assault was invoked by many of the women who said they’d opted out of sex.
The other two factors come as no great shock either: Rates of anxiety and depression have been rising among Americans for decades now, and by some accounts have risen quite sharply of late among people in their teens and 20s.
Anxiety suppresses desire for most people.
And, in a particularly unfortunate catch‑22, both depression and the antidepressants used to treat it can also reduce desire.
…Moreover, what research we have on sexually inactive adults suggests that, for those who desire a sex life, there may be such a thing as waiting too long. Among people who are sexually inexperienced at age 18, about 80 percent will become sexually active by the time they are 25. But those who haven’t gained sexual experience by their mid-20s are much less likely to ever do so.
The authors of a 2009 study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine speculated that “if a man or woman has not had intercourse by age 25, there is a reasonable chance [he or she] will remain a virgin at least until age 45.”
Research by Stanford’s Michael Rosenfeld confirms that, in adulthood, true singledom is a far more stable category than most of us have imagined.
Over the course of a year, he reports, only 50 percent of heterosexual single women in their 20s go on any dates—and older women are even less likely to do so.
…How can such little things—a bad night’s sleep, low-grade distraction—defeat something as fundamental as sex? One answer, which I heard from a few quarters, is that our sexual appetites are meant to be easily extinguished. The human race needs sex, but individual humans don’t.
…As Emily Nagoski likes to point out, (Link): nobody ever died of sexlessness: “We can starve to death, die of dehydration, even die of sleep deprivation. But nobody ever died of not being able to get laid.”
Regarding this portion of the article:
A fulfilling sex life is not necessary for a good life, of course, but lots of research confirms that it contributes to one. Having sex is associated not only with happiness, but with a slew of other health benefits. The relationship between sex and wellness, perhaps unsurprisingly, goes both ways: The better off you are, the better off your sex life is, and vice versa. Unfortunately, the converse is true as well. Not having a partner—sexual or romantic—can be both a cause and an effect of discontent. Moreover, as American social institutions have withered, having a life partner has become a stronger predictor than ever of well-being.
I think the author is making too much of marriage, as evangelicals do.
In the Bible, God instructs Christians to treat all as family. This means, if you are a never-married 40 year old adult, your “church” family should be like your “real” family and provide you with companionship and help. The church today, though, has revered Marriage and the Nuclear Family to the point that they disregard the single adults among them.
The author ends the article by talking once more about April, the lady who was a virgin. April said she met a man and spent time with him over the summer, and they seemed to get along really well, until she told him that she was a virgin. And his reaction? He dumped her.
I don’t think someone being a virgin should be a reason to break up with that person. Oddly enough, as a woman who is over 45 and still a virgin, I am repeatedly asked by culture, by feminists, by everyone, to be super tolerant of other people’s sexual behavior, choices, and their sexual pasts, but I’ve notice that society, feminists, and everyone else is not equally tolerant and accepting of adult virgins.
(Link): Why Aren’t Millennials Having Sex Anymore? via Relevant Magazine