Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Young and the Sexless

What is it with these millennials? The twenty-something generation has grown up in the sexual revolution.  Theirs is a brave new world where everyone has complete access to the most sexually gratifying life experiences. They are more aware of sex, know more about sex and have seen more explicit sex than just about any generation in human history.

And yet, they are retiring from the fun fest. Unless you think that less is more, they seem to be suffering from sexual deprivation.

Millennials have not been liberated for sex; they have been liberated from sex. After all that sex education; after all that porn watching; after all those admonitions to use a condom; after all the talk about sexual abuse and rape culture; after all those demystifying open conversations about all matters sexual sex…  millennials have turned off of sex.

Could it be that all the exposure has desensitized them to sexual stimuli? It appears that the sexual revolution, coupled with various liberation movements, has killed sex.

The statistic is shocking. Time Magazine reports it:

But if millennials are going to keep sowing their wild oats into middle age, another recent study suggests they’ll need to up their game: less than 7% of 20-somethings have sex 2-5 times per week, according to data from online dating service Match, and 49% of people in their 20s have not had sex at all in the past year.

You think that that is bad:

The study says one in three 20-somethings have never had sex at all. 

33 13% of twenty somethings are virgins. Perhaps we have all missed something: they might have a calling. They might be preparing to join the celibate clergy.

Statistics are statistics. The real question is: how do we interpret them?

Dr. Helen Fisher thinks that these youngsters are pursuing their careers and are more serious about committed relationships:

You’d think they’d be focused on sleeping around, but really what they’re focused on is getting ahead,” explains Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University and Chief Scientific Advisor for Match. “In their 20s I think they’re working very hard. There’s something to be said for the fact that they may be taking relationships and commitment more seriously.”

Is the esteemed Dr. Fisher telling us that working hard precludes the occasional sexual romp? Does she think that people who take their relationships and commitments more seriously will necessarily have fewer of them and have less sex?


As a rule people in committed relationships have more sex than do those who troll bars looking for a random hookup. The question that ought to arise is this: why aren’t millennials developing romantic relationships? Are they too busy running the world? Are they turned off to sex? Are they so demoralized that they do want to bother with it? Do they think it’s too risky?

Surely, a hard-working millennial must have some vestige of a hormonally driven tendency to have sex. Do they deal with it by watching porn? Are they involved in solo sexual performances, what used to be called self-abuse?

One assumes that when Time talks about having sex it is referring to coitus. For all I know it could be including the other variants, too.

Another researcher suggests that it’s all about the fear of STDs.

Time reports the opinions of Dr. Jeffrey Arnett:

That seriousness is reflected in the way millennials calculate risky behavior, which is a big part of sexual activity. “This is a generation that has grown up with an awareness of HIV/AIDS,” explains Jeffrey Arnett a research professor at Clark University and author of Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood. “When the boomers were in their heyday, that didn’t exist and it seemed like free love was a good idea.” He also notes that millennials are much more likely to use condoms than boomers ever were.

When AIDS was a more active threat, people were acutely aware of the danger. Today, not so much. But they also knew that they could avoid the risk of AIDS by not participating in certain kinds of sexual behavior with specific classes of people. I am sure that I need not elaborate.

So, I am not entirely persuaded by the AIDS scare theory.

Arnett offers another explanation. Young people today, having watched their parents crash their lives with decadent behavior, have chosen to remain celibate:

Arnett says millennials may see their elders’ licentious behavior as a cautionary tale. “It’s not only that they have fewer sexual partners than the baby boomers did, but they also drink less, they smoke less, the crime rate is half now than it was 20 years ago, teenage pregnancy has plummeted—it’s part of this broader pattern of less risky behavior,” he explains.

And also:

“It could be that the children saw the consequences of not following the rules—high divorce rates, drug addiction, and a lot of teenage pregnancy and so on, and there are many of them who have grown up to be more conservative in terms of some of their own social behavior.”

I am wholly in sympathy with the notion that people should follow rules-- I’m working on a book-length manuscript on the topic. I accept that people have learned the value of rule following by observing what happened to those who did not follow them. 

But, this thesis does not tell us why these same young people have not gotten married and settled down. It’s one thing to abandon hookups and decadence. It’s quite another thing to abandon romantic relationships at an age when your biology wants you to embrace them.

One might think that the problem lies with women. Even though the magazine article does not distinguish between men and women,we might imagine that women who are building their careers are less interested in getting married while in their twenties. But, does this preclude dating or any form of romantic relationship?

Since we do not have a demographic breakdown of these numbers, we will add that we know that more than a quarter of this year’s graduating class at Harvard had not had sex during the four years they spent at school. One suspects that this group comprised the nerds and geeks who are now working at Google and Facebook, the group that landed the most desirable jobs out of college.

It is altogether possible that many college (and high school) students experiment with sex—as they were told to do—only to discover that it is not a panacea for everything that is ailing them. As they watched other students spend more time in the library and less time getting wasted perhaps they figured out that licentiousness was not the way to go.

Still, even this interpretation does not explain why so many of these young people have embraced the other extreme. Perhaps, given their overexposure to sex and whatever experimentation they indulged during their formative years, they needed to regain their moral bearings by becoming celibate for a time.

Such was the moral of Hephzibah Anderson’ s fine book: Chastened: The Unexpected Story of My Yearwithout Sex.


Ares Olympus said...

Looks like the paper is here.
Figure 3 shows number of sex partners decreasing from peak near 4.0 for those born from 1960-1969 down to 3.5 for those born from 1980-1994. Is that really significant?

Averages don't tell much of a story. I wonder if the numbers change between intercourse or oral sex? And I agree a gender break down would be good too. Perhaps there's more if someone wants to read the whole 42 page paper.
ABSTRACT In the nationally representative General Social Survey, U.S. Adults (N = 33,380) in 2000-2012 (vs. the 1970s and 1980s) had more sexual partners, were more likely to have had sex with a casual date or pickup or an acquaintance, and were more accepting of most non-marital sex (premarital sex, teen sex, and same-sex sexual activity, but not extramarital sex).

The percentage who believed premarital sex among adults was "not wrong at all" was 29 % in the early 1970s, 42 % in the 1980s and 1990s, 49 % in the 2000s, and 58 % between 2010 and 2012. Mixed effects (hierarchical linear modeling) analyses separating time period, generation/birth cohort, and age showed that the trend toward greater sexual permissiveness was primarily due to generation.

Acceptance of non-marital sex rose steadily between the G.I. generation (born 1901-1924) and Boomers (born 1946-1964), dipped slightly among early Generation X'ers (born 1965-1981), and then rose so that Millennials (also known as Gen Y or Generation Me, born 1982-1999) were the most accepting of non-marital sex.

Number of sexual partners increased steadily between the G.I.s and 1960s-born GenX'ers and then dipped among Millennials to return to Boomer levels. The largest changes appeared among White men, with few changes among Black Americans. The results were discussed in the context of growing cultural individualism and rejection of traditional social rules in the U.S.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

We've taken the mystery and commitment out of sex, so it's now another transactional component in our lives, with s generous helping of entertainment. It's a pleasure, not a connection. Very Americanized. Love is optional.

priss rules said...

It could be the Dong Factor.

As society becomes more sexualized with boys and girls more candid about talk about sex, the subject turns to the Dong Talk. Girls will say such-and-such has a big dong, and then another girl will such-and-such has a bigger dong, and then another girl will say such-and-such have even a bigger dong.

Now, most men are not major dongers. With the Dong Factor being so much a part of today's sex culture among young people, even guys with normal dongs feel inadequate and inferior and feel they won't be admired in the Dong Game.

When I was growing up, there were not shows like GIRLS with Lena Dunham. And music videos weren't as crazy as Nicki Minaj's big booty and Anaconda stuff. And as the biggest acts in music were white, white guys were seen as top studs by most white girls.

But today's young people grew up with big big talk of dongs and booties. And with the promotion of interracism, white girls are more likely to talk about bigger black dongs, and that makes white guys less confident with white girls. This undercuts white male confidence in the Dong Game.

Beavis, the sage of the age, understood this.

priss rules said...

Emma Sulkowicz...

If a nutjob like that can ruin a man's life, I can understand why guys are much more careful these days.

priss rules said...

Maybe it has something to do with Diversity.

Didn't some guy named Putnam write a book called "Bowling Alone"?

His thesis is that people are less likely to socially engage with one another -- even with people of one's own group -- as diversity increases.

Maybe one could extend this to 'Balling Alone'. Maybe increased diversity not only leads to less sex but even less intra-racial sex.
Maybe it makes more people feel suspicious and anxious.

Anonymous said...

I first recognized the concept of a sexless sex symbol when a report surfaced that Pamela Anderson, while still making films to exploit her sex appeal, claimed to have gone without sex for a significant period of time.

This article about Marilyn Monroe opens with a quote: "Maybe I'm a sexless sex goddess."

Another quote, regarding her amplified sex appeal when the camera is rolling, "It's like being screwed by a thousand guys and you can't get pregnant."

There have always been sexless sex workers such as hostesses, taxi dancers, topless dancers, etc. Today a growing number of women are practicing a form of sexless sex work called findom or financial domination apparently in response to a growing number of male customers.

There is a theory that excessive student loans and other financial problems are preventing young couples from forming families in Japan and the United States.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Anonymous @August 5, 2015 at 4:29 PM:

Pamela Anderson is an exaggeration of the feminine form. That's what explains her "sexlessness," and that's what explains her "thousand guys." There's no mystery. She's an object. She's objectified herself.

If you think "hostesses" are sex workers, you have demeaned an excellent way for a young woman to maximize her opportunity to be viewed by as many men as possible. Same for the other roles you mention. What they choose to do with that power is their own. It's not exploitation... it's opportunity.

Anonymous said...


Although I agree with your point about a traditional hostess, in my judgment a cocktail waitress or hostess that provides eye candy for males in a particular venue (e.g., Hooters) is in a role very similar to the other sexless sex workers. There is a theory of emotional work that is adopted by some sex workers and feminists who regard the emotional work performed by women in particular as something that is not assigned proper financial value. Police officers perform emotional work whenever they moderate their emotions to deal with the public. I don't see any bright line to determine who provides whom with emotional services and who should pay whom under what conditions. A bad therapist certainly uses his or her patients for money and to meet emotional needs, just as a bad parent makes his or her children pay in a futile effort to meet unresolved emotional needs, and yet patients are expected to pay for bad therapy.

Using similar logic I would inform you that the power to transfer wealth from one person to another in society via taxation is not exploitation ... it's opportunity. Or do you worship human desire and action only when it resembles markets rather than organized via governments? In both cases it is nothing but human nature expressing itself in ways that one either approves or does not approve of the pattern of behavior.

Anonymous said...

The quotes above (posted Aug. 5, 2015, 4:29PM) by actress Marilyn Monroe appear in the following article:

Anatomy of a Sex Symbol

Leo G said...

Stuart, I think this article, even quoting the authors about their study's data and interpretation, is more factual, then the above study. Less romance, all sex all the time.

Anonymous said...

The article posted by Leo G. reminds me of the theme Bigger Better Deal (BBD) from the movie Hardbodies (1984). Male characters in this movie were always discussing the BBD as if it were an endless personal quest to find an even bigger and better deal.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Anonymous @August 5, 2015 at 7:30 PM:

I was talking about objectification in the case of Anderson, and being a hostess in the context of opportunity, whether for money or to maximize options for finding a mate. Also, is is well-known that women gain satisfaction from the male gaze, and there is probably the rationalization than women showing cleavage and a tight butt will get better tips. While that's not what I would want for a woman I cared about, it certainly is an option, and perhaps a good one depending on circumstance. It's about as unethical as a single woman wearing a form-fitting, strapless evening gown to a black tie affair. I don't besmirch her attempts to draw attention. And nobody made the Hooters waitress apply for the job. It was a choice.

Is for the idea you offer about "emotional work," this also makes sense because no assets are being created. The interaction of a police officer or therapist is a service, and is not replicable in the way that a product is. It's a different kind of value. Feminists like to talk about "equal pay for equal work," but it's all in the eye of the beholder. Alas, the bottom line is that emotional services cannot be inventoried, and therefore they carry less value for the sake of collateral and scale. I don't want to go on too far with this.

Indeed, using the power of one's vote to transfer wealth is opportunity. The question is whether it works in the long term. In other words, does it have any enduring value? It does not. Eventually, pandering politicians run out of other people's money, and the assets that create wealth have been stripped from those who created them. Effectively, it's an argument about moral hazard. I don't view redistributive taxation as exploitation necessarily, I view it as stupid policy because it doesn't expand the pie for people in the long term because creators eventually begin hoarding their contributions. Why put oneself at risk if the returns are going to be appropriated by others who simply say -- at the ballot box -- that they want them? This is why we get black markets both in fact and metaphorically.

I do not worship human desire. I believe that desire is like any spirit that must be evaluated in terms of its means and ends. I have no illusions about the beneficence of businesspeople, nor do I believe in free markets. I believe in free enterprise... the right of the individual to enter the market unencumbered and participate under the structure of that market and agreed-upon rules. Self-dealing in issuing licenses, requiring certification and other forms crony capitalism is not free enterprise. The fulfillment of base human desires by using government to take wealth from the most productive persons, those creators who have expanded the realm of possibility for us all is simply bad policy. It may feel good in the short term, but is disastrous to wealth-creation, living standards and other benefits of modern civilization. It simply doesn't work.

Human nature does express itself, for good and evil. We need to discern what is good, and address what is evil. An able person taking things from productive people so that he does not produce is not just, just as a productive person ought not take things from a disabled person to satisfy his own material desires. This isn't my best attempt to get at what you're offering here, but that's my sense of it now.