A growing share of American adults under the age of 50 were single in 2018, compared to the results of a national survey in previous years. That, combined with a long-term trend of fewer teens having sex, has created speculation that America is in a “sexual recession” – or even a “sexual depression”.
But a new analysis for the Institute for Family Studies National data by Nicholas Wolfinger, professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah, suggests it’s too early to play “Taps” for sexual activity. There isn’t a long enough timeframe on the data available, which “should lead us to wait a second before making any claims on sex death,” he said.
The recent observed decline in sexual activity includes that seen as good for strengthening intimate bonds in relationships and the types of sex viewed as bad by most. Experts don’t worry about sexually inactive adolescents and universally agree that teenage pregnancy can derail the lives of young people and lead to challenges like higher poverty rates and lower education.
But Wolfinger points out the well-being implications of having sex. “Most people want to get married; an even larger majority yearn for some kind of intimate relationship, ”he writes. “In addition, Americans have fewer children than they would like. “
Most of the existing results on sexual activity are based on data from the General Social Survey. Wolfinger, who is also an assistant professor of sociology, looked at that, but also the past 10 years of what he called “arguably better data” from the National Survey of Family Growth. When he looked at the two investigations, he told Deseret News he had not found what could still be called a “trend” towards prolonged celibacy.
“But 2018 was definitely a bad year for sex,” he said.
Family Growth Survey Reveals America “May Be Ahead Of Sex, But It’s Too Early To Tell If The Rises Of The Last Years Are A Sustaining Trend Or Just Hint. Writes Wolfinger. He said his survey offered less evidence of a genderless trend for women than for men and less overall evidence than the General Social Survey suggests.
The term “sexual recessionWas coined by Kate Julian in a 2019 article in The Atlantic. She wrote that a number of studies have found that American teens and young adults have less sex. Among the experts she cited was Jean M. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University who has studied in depth the impact of screens and social media on young people and their interactions.
Twenge reported that young people in their 20s are 2.5 times more likely to abstain from sex than Gen Xers – those between the ages of 40 and 50 – were when they were the same age. Twenge separately found that adults had sex less often.
Wolfinger writes: “About two-thirds of this drop is attributable to the decreased likelihood of being married or cohabiting. The other third is a decrease in how often married couples get it, a slowdown with little apparent cause. This cannot be explained by the hours spent at work or by the consumption of pornography, ”he concludes. wrote pretty much earlier.
Wolfinger notes shortcomings in both sets of surveys. The General Social Survey does not define what it considers sex, possibly excluding acts other than sex. It offers two options for celibacy: the past year or since the age of 18. Data on intimate same-sex encounters are limited.
The National Family Growth Survey, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, also has limitations – including measuring lifelong celibacy or celibacy in the past year. He defines what he sees as sex, capturing both homosexual and heterosexual intimacy for men, while measuring celibacy for women as the absence of heterosexual intercourse. However, marriage and cohabitation are only identified for heterosexual unions. Although same-sex marriage is legal, people who are married or cohabiting with a same-sex partner are considered single.
While it’s not clear whether the apparent decrease in sexual activity is a trend, Wolfinger said some facts about sexual activity are certain, including that teens have had less sex for years. Teenage pregnancies and overall unintended pregnancies are on the decline – statistics not the result of abortion, which is at its lowest in 40 years, according to a recently updated fact sheet from the Guttmacher Institute.
What other studies say
During a Sutherland Institute discussion Tuesday on a child tax credit proposal by Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat noted how economic and social forces change the way the sexes interact. He attributes or blames, depending on your perspective, the internet for changing the way young people date and interact, noting the shift from concerns of the 1990s about teens and young adults having too much sex to those who fear today. But they have too little of it.
“There is a decline in sex, dating, relationships, marriage and children. It’s a continuum of a kind of relationship failure. It is something for families, churches, communities. Everyone must take this into account. There is no perfect political solution, ”said Douthat.
A number of studies note a decline or delay in sexual activity. Some offer theories as to what is going on.
Directory American Family Survey 2020 conducted during the pandemic found that couples in committed relationships reported having less sex than in the past. The nationally representative annual study is conducted by YouGov for Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.
This study called romantic partnerships largely stable, but noted that couples had less sex, down 5 percentage points in 2020 from 2019 and 10 points from 2015. She also said that couples discussed their relationships 4 points less often than the previous year and 11 points less since 2015.
A 2016 study in the Archives of sexual behavior led by Twenge found that higher rates of sexual inactivity among people born in the 1980s and 1990s were more pronounced for women and absent for young adult college graduates and black Americans. “Contrary to popular media conceptions of a ‘hip generation’ more likely to have frequent casual sex,” she wrote, more of them did not have a sexual partner after the age of 18. years compared to other recent cohorts.
A study in the Journal of Marriage and Family published in late 2020 by sociologists at Rutgers and the State University of New York at Albany also noted that “the frequency with which young adults have sex has decreased over time. decades, but the sources of this trend are not well understood. “According to this research,” trends in economic insecurity, relationship formation, parental cohabitation, use of electronic media, psychological distress and alcohol consumption have all been suggested as possible causes ”.
The researchers concluded that a decrease in romantic ties and less alcohol consumption were the most important, while a decrease in income and more time spent playing video games also mattered.
Even though married couples seem to have less sex, Wolfinger points out that they do. He writes that long-term celibacy “remains extremely rare for couples in general,” adding that less than 1% of heterosexual married or cohabiting couples reported not having had sex in the past year.
“The trends in the absence of sex are therefore driven by two phenomena,” said Wolfinger. They are: “the evolution of the rates of union formation and sexual (in) activity of people who do not live with a partner”.
Whether it was a trend or a failure, Wolfinger said it should be noted that nearly 30% of single respondents in any of the surveys he analyzed said not having had sex in the past year and 1 in 7 of those who never married said they had no hope. do this.
Sexual recession tells about certain details of modern life, however long or short it may be, Wolfinger said. It points to a decades-long withdrawal from various social institutions which was recounted in Robert D. Putnam’s book, “Bowling alone. ”
Is moving away from sexual intimacy the next step? Wolfinger wonders. “Some Americans have somehow sublimated, overwhelmed, or substituted their inherently human desire for sex in lives increasingly lived online, in social media and in video games” – a trend which he says has continued. developed in isolation induced by the pandemic.
The question becomes what happens next, Wolfinger said.