One suspects that it is not America’s most pressing problem. And yet, serious researchers have studied the issue and the Washington Post has brought us the story.
The studies conclude that Americans are having less sex. On a per-year basis they are having less conjugal intimacy than they used to have. By the numbers, that means that they are making “the beast with two backs” 7 to 9 fewer times per year.
The Post is too modest to raise the issue, but we do not know about other kinds of sex and about how satisfying the sex is. And since this is based on self-reports, one can only wonder how many of these adults are hiding some of their extracurricular sexual activities. The escort and gigolo businesses are still around. And we do not know about kinks and fetishes. People who have lovers or who hook up in the stairwell are perhaps less inclined to have sex with their lawful spouses.
All we know is the frequency… and often that is not always the most salient feature.
Anyway, the Post reports:
Using 1989-2014 data from the General Social Survey, the study found that American adults have sex seven to nine fewer times per year than in the 1990s. Back then, Americans on average had sex 60 to 62 times a year, but in the early 2000s the frequency began to slip, and by 2014 it had declined to less than 53 times a year.
When looking only at married people, the drop was even sharper — from around 73 times a year in 1990 to around 55 in 2014 — bringing their frequency of sexual activity below that of never-married people. People in that group have sex an average of 59 times a year.
The researchers find this notable, because as a rule people who are married have more sex than do people who are not married. The Post cleverly notes that beyond the benefit you gain from filing your taxes as a married couple, marriage used to confer the benefit of more sex. Whether it was better sex and whether the couples in question were happy or unhappy with the frequency… these questions do not seem to have been asked. Were one to try to be provocative one would ask how many couples keep close count of the frequency of their coital interludes. Apparently, the question was not asked.
The study also assumes that people are not having sex because they have lost interest. It does not compare the sex drives of both members of the couple, so the explanation lacks some saliency.
Anyway, no one knows why this is happening or what it means. Among the more obvious causes is depression. Everyone knows that depression causes a marked diminution of libido. Of course, now that we have brand new medications, called SSRIs to treat depression, we have also discovered that these medications produce the unwelcome side-effect of diminishing libido. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
The Post speculates:
The report did not list causes for the decline. But it cited possible factors including increased access to entertainment and social media, a decline in happiness among people age 30 and over, higher incidence of depression, and use of antidepressants associated with sexual dysfunction.
For some reason, whenever we note a social trend we blame it on social media. But, it does make some sense to say that people are less happy. Now, as it happens, pride incites desire and people who are not proud of their country or their city or their company or their job are not likely to feel in an especially amorous mood. Unless, of course, they are using compulsive sexual experiences as a way to medicate their diminished pride. One wonders how that skews the statistics.
As for the looming question, asked by psychologist Jean Twenge, are people having less sex because they are less happy or are they less happy because they are having less sex… I will opt for the former.
The Post quotes Twenge:
“Are they less happy and thus having less sex, or are they having less sex and therefore less happy? It’s probably some of both,” said Jean M. Twenge, the study’s lead author, who teaches psychology at San Diego State University and wrote “Generation Me,” a book about millennials. “We do know that sexual frequency is linked to marital satisfaction, so overall if you have fewer people having sex, you could have people who are less happy and less satisfied with that relationship.”
Sociologist Pepper Schwartz blames it all on the two-income family, which she calls a necessity and not a choice. If two spouses work outside the home and are bringing up children they are probably feeling less than lusty when they collapse into bed at night:
A major detractor to Americans’ sex lives has been the rising necessity of the two-income family, said Pepper Schwartz, a sociology professor at the University of Washington. “I would say the number one cause for a lack of sex is fatigue,” she said. “You have many more women and men working to create a two-income family to stay middle class or above. . . . People’s minds are occupied with things other than the physical connection, and that has increased in modern life, and especially from the ’80s and ’90s and forward.”
I find the suggestion intriguing. We had been told, on excellent authority that wives need to work outside of the home lest then not feel fully fulfilled as human persons. Apparently, the truth is that many wives engage in this labor because they cannot otherwise maintain their standard of living. Which is not the same thing. I accept Schwartz’s observation, but note the point.
Note that the Post and the researchers do not mention the influence of feminism and of whether strong empowered feminists are more or less likely to want to have sex or to attract male partners. Anyway, the researchers do suggest that postponing marriage and childbearing does not add to sexual frequency:
As more people put off parenthood until later, the combination of middle age and child-rearing may create a “perfect storm” of sexual infrequency, the study said.
And working parents who spend less time with their children during the week tend to make up for it on weekends, eating into time that would normally go to the couple, Schwartz said.
I am happy to accept Schwartz’s analysis, but I would point out that following the feminist life plan does not make for more frequent copulatory events.
For all I know this may be a good thing. I am just reporting the facts.
The studies also make another interesting observation. If you compare the frequency of fornication among groups at the same time in their lives, those who were born in the 1930s had more sex than did our millennial generation. That means that when the 1930s cohort was twentysomething they had more sex than do today’s millennials, now in their twenties. For the most obvious reason we cannot compare the two groups at later stages of their lives.
But when comparing the same time period in the lives of each generation, the group having sex most often were those born in the 1930s, while those having the least sex were born in the 1990s.
To be more clear about it, the generation that came of sexual age in the 1950s—you recall how bad that era was—was having more sex than today’s millennials. Yet, they did not have such easy access to contraception.
As for today, sexual activity declined for people in their 50s—I trust that I do not have to explain that one. But it also declined for people who had been better educated, who had children in school, who lived in the South and who did not watch pornography. It declined less for younger people—big surprise—men, non-whites, parents of young children, people who lived in the West and people who had watched a porn movie during the year.
The Post writes:
The decline in sexual activity was sharpest among people in their 50s, people with a college degree, people with school-age children, people in the South and those who do not watch pornography. It was less pronounced among younger people, men, nonwhites, people with children under 6, people in the West and those who had watched a pornographic movie in the past year.
Here we would be happier if we were facing more precise information. The influence of porn watching cannot, in my view, be evaluated by whether or not one has watched a single porn movie during the space of a year. Recent studies have distinguished between different kinds of porn consumers, and certainly someone who watches one movie a year is not in the same category as someone who watches three a day. The latter are apparently government employees.
And what about porn videos, some of which are obviously not full length movies. One suspects that the ubiquity of pornography has had some influence on the sexual behavior of today’s young people… in the sense of numbing their sensitivity to erotic stimuli and in the sense of their having other than coital outlets for their lubricious impulses.
The Post article does not address these salient points, and one wonders how many of those interviewed would have reported on them honestly.
Let’s not forget that the millennial generation, for reasons that escape me, has developed the habit of exchanging obscene selfies, that is, pictures of their external genitalia, with each other. We do not know how prevalent this is, but we have read that it is quite prevalent, even among middle school students.
One notes, with compassionate chagrin, that these youths have overcome shame. They have accepted the dimwitted notion that shame is bad for you because it feels bad. In truth, shame involves keeping your private parts out of the public square. And one reason for this modesty is that it sustains sexual desire… lesson that the millennial generation is learning the hard way.