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A Closer Look at the “Sex Recession”

Men and Women Without Sex

A Closer Look at the “Sex Recession”

You wouldn’t know it from watching movies, television shows or even music videos these days, but in spite of all the NSFW glory of HBO dramas or Cardi B songs, we are in the midst of a bonified sex recession. Don’t take my word for it. Just read The Guardian, The Atlantic, Vogue, Vice or Scientific American. 

There’s a lot of disagreement on the why (something in the water? video games? porn? fears of climate catastrophe?), but the data on the ground is unambiguous: people are having less sex. Young people are driving the change, with young men in particular lagging behind, but older adults aren’t immune (one famous study from the Journal of Gerontology found that 40% of married adults over the age of 50 had not had sex in over a year), nor does this phenomenon seem to be unique to the United States. It’s also true of Britain, Japan and Australia.

It’s a pretty amusing irony that, in an era of internet-enabled ubiquitous porn, fewer and fewer people are getting it on, but once you get over the chuckles, you might start to wonder: how are people coping? There’s a popular idea that women can go longer without having sex than men, without issue, but sex is a form of physical intimacy, an important one, and the connection between frequent physical touch (including small gestures like holding hands or hugging) and improved mental health outcomes is well established.

The Causes of the Sex Recession

Like any complex issue, there probably isn’t a single factor behind the sharp decline in sex, but these theories represent the most likely culprits.

We Socialize Less in Person

The Internet and social media have gradually taken over more and more of our daily lives, and as wonderful as TikTok and Instagram can be, they can’t replace in-person interactions. Or rather, they shouldn’t. One Gallup survey of American teenagers found that the average 17-year-old spent more than five hours per day on social media. Pair that finding with this Pew research study that found that just 25% of teenagers spend time with a friend outside of school on a daily basis and you’ll start to understand why your Gen Z relatives are all glued to their phones.

The picture isn’t much better for adults, though. The Survey Center on American Life has been charting a consistent decline in friendship for three decades, with just 3% of Americans reporting “no close friends” in 1990, ballooning to 12% of Americans in 2021. Smaller friendship circles means fewer social connections (again, ironic for an age of social networking!), and fewer social connections results in fewer romantic partners. 

We Play Too Many Video Games

This definitely goes hand-in-hand with “socializing less in person,” but it bears mentioning all the same. And before you get all huffy, please don’t think we’re hating on video games. They’ve been blamed for every social ill since they were invented, but we’re not here to tell you to box up your PS5. Still, when sociologists look at sexless young men, the sheer time they commit to video games stands out. 

A study conducted by researchers at Rutgers University found that young men who played video games “frequently” were twice as likely to be celibate as young men who played no video games at all. Is this causal, you might ask, or just correlational? In other words, maybe men who are single fill up their free time with video games and men in relationships don’t, thus explaining the difference. The Rutgers study attempted to control for this by zeroing in on young men who had “engaged in casual sex in the last month,” using data sets from 2007 and 2017. In that ten-year period, the number of men reporting casual sex declined by 14%, and the researchers were able to attribute greater time spent playing video games as a major cause.  

Money Is Tight

In that same study, the next-most consequential change explaining the decline in casual sex was financial. In tough times, when the cost of living skyrockets, more money gets spent on necessities like food and housing, and less goes to luxuries, like dating.

But there’s an even more obvious reason that finances can hurt our love lives: more and more young people are living at home. In fact, even not-so-young people are returning to the family abode. According to Bloomberg, in 2023, 45% of Americans age 18-29 (approximately 23 million people) live with their parents, a level not seen since the 1940s. Paying no rent is a great way to build up your savings, but living with mom and dad isn’t exactly an aphrodisiac. 

We’re All Masturbating Way More

One of the major factors pointed to in journalist Kate Julian’s “Why Are Young People Having Less Sex?” is the rise in self-pleasure. She cites research that found that, between the years 1992 and 2014, the share of men who reported masturbating in a week doubled, while the share of women who masturbated tripled. This brings us to a potentially positive interpretation: maybe we’re having having less bad sex, and the rise of online pornography and the sex toy industry has just helped us self-pleasure in ways that don’t depend on us having a partner.

Of course, where you land on this is going to be highly subjective. If you’re happy being single and sexless, more power to you. But if you’re craving intimacy, if your dry spell is threatening to become a dry year, it might be time to reassess some of your habits, spend less time on the Internet, and put yourself out there, in the real world. It’s not as scary as you might think.

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Source: AskMen


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