We are, as a society, having much less sex than we used to, according to Time. Reporter Belinda Luscombe delved into research that indicates people everywhere are just not entertaining themselves by fornicating anymore. For example, the National Opinion Research Council at the University of Chicago claimed that the number of people freaking at least once a week went from 45 per cent in 2000 to 36 per cent by 2016.
They also say that people in their twenties now are much less sexually active than the previous generation, condom sales are down, and the CDC reports teen sex rates have remained flat or gone down since 1985. What are we coming to? Nothing, apparently. Here’s why:
Despite what you’ve heard, marriage often increases the amount of sex you’re having compared to single people your age. This is according to Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University who wrote on the topic for the Archives of Sexual Behaviour. Basically, if you know where your next hundred lays are coming from, you go get ’em:
This is just a matter of logistics: people who work at pizza parlours eat a lot more pizza than others do too, because they don’t have to go out and get it. Married people get it on more than their single peers because they’re already going to bed with someone who is theoretically willing to have sex with them. The supply side of the equation is solved, only demand remains a riddle.
When fewer people are coupling up in stable, shared homes, there’s less sex happening. The median age for marriage in the US has gone up, which means delays in finding a steady sex partner. But even married folk, Luscombe admits, may be having trouble getting it on.
You’re Too Tired (With Kids)
The sex commitment shifts after you have children. Surprisingly, if their kids are under the age of six, people will still pretty much keep banging. When your children are between six and 17 is when things fall off; researchers guess this is because of general family anxiety, which ratchets up when your children can talk and walk around and need to apply to university.
On the plus side, things often get back on track for parents when they hit their 60s.
Kids are a huge distraction, but we have plenty of other smaller distractions that are making us forget to fornicate. Sex is fun: It’s a form of entertainment, on a very basic level. If you’re getting your entertainment needs met by Netflix or on your phone, you might not reach for it elsewhere.
Or you could be stressing yourself out by paying bills in bed, comparing yourself to others on Instagram, or reading the news. Not very sexy.
“Technology in the bedroom, unless it’s technology that’s being used in a kind of pro-sexual or sexual arousing way, can be a major deterrent to some of that kindling of sexual arousal that’s really necessary for desire,” says Dr. Lori Brotto, an obstetrics professor at the University of British Columbia and a sex therapist.
Yet another benefit to having a “no screens” rule an hour before bedtime, hmm?
There is considerable debate on how porn is affecting people’s sex lives. Some see any criticism of pornography as moralising. Others fear that relating to screens instead of human faces is rewiring how people are stimulated sexually. Sex therapist and author Marty Klein told Luscombe that it’s definitely an issue that comes up a lot in his practice:
“The biggest change that I’ve seen [since 2000] is women complaining about male use of pornography,” says Klein, who leans pro-porn. “I get that at least once a week.”
Couples therapist Ian Kerner suggests people watch ethically made porn together as a way to open up conversations about sex or just to have some. It is meant to be arousing, after all! Twenge’s research indicated that people who watch “at least one pornographic movie in the previous year were more likely to have sex than those who didn’t,” though her results are not definitive.
But it’s also worth pointing out that while sex is declining, the sex toy industry is not and VR porn is super hot right now. In more ways than one.
So, remember how living with someone who has sex with you leads to more sex? Well, it turns out hanging in a friend group leads to much less sex for the same reason. More people in their twenties hang out at night with groups, and while drunken make outs surely happen, it’s not as clear and consistent as a relationship.
“When people are young and healthy and have the highest sex drive, they are less likely to be living with a partner,” says Twenge. “So there’s a larger proportion of people in their early 20s who are not having sex at all.”
Friend groups can be emotionally sustaining and arguably better for you than sex, your weekly Settlers of Catan night might be preventing you from scoring.
Conversations About Consent
Lubscombe interviewed a couple where the husband, Matt, was unhappy with how little sex he and his wife had, but found it difficult to parse what was reasonable to ask for:
“There was always the question in my mind, am I being unreasonable?” Matt says. “It’s not for me to determine how legitimate her excuses are. And I don’t want to do it if she’s not into it.” But he admits he’s also possibly overthinking it. “It’s probably a cultural thing, where there’s such a huge emphasis on consent and of course, there should be,” he says, “but it’s important to the point where I’m not even willing to question whether there is something wrong in the relationship.”
The #MeToo movement is a way to discuss how coercive sexual behaviour is infiltrating not only work, but interpersonal relationships. That means marriage, too, and it’s a conversation worth having. Dr. Brotto told Luscombe that the cultural atmosphere is asking people to question their usual notions about how their partner should respond to them:
“This can mean that partners are initiating less, that they’re sitting back and waiting for the female to initiate. And then feeling rejected when they don’t. In my clinical practice, I see a lot of that.”
Personally, I can only see this as a good thing, even if that means less sex. Because the missing component here is still communication, which is a general issue for most couples; talk to your partner about what they want and need and what you want and need, and find a place to meet in the middle. And Dr. Klein agrees:
“If you want me to give my advice to the … public about this, it would be, ‘Talk to each other about sex,'” says Klein. “Talk to each other about how you want to feel. Do you want to feel attractive? Do you want to feel desired? Do you want to feel young? Do you want to feel graceful?”
Sex is something really fun that actually takes a lot of work.
This article has been updated since its original publication.