Friday, November 16, 2018

Generation Sexless

Long time readers of this blog will not be surprised. They will not be shocked. As to the question of how much sex young people are having, I have already posted on the topic, at least twice, with posts entitled: Who Killed Sex? With apologies to all for recycling a post title, thefirst dates from 2011. The second dates to May of this year.

Still and all, Kate Julian has written a good article about the simple fact that young people are not having very much sex. The article recently appeared in The Atlantic. It is comprehensive and well researched. Thus, I am happy to recommend it to your attention.

What caused the American libido to run dry? Was it porn? Was it early sex education? Was it Puritanical repression? Was it feminism? Was it the sexual revolution? Or was it the loss of a sense of modesty, a sense of shame. Letting it all hang out… so to speak… being open and honest about sexuality seems to have killed sexual desire.

Who knew?

This elevates the importance of the sexual revolution, a Vietnam Era countercultural act, designed to liberate sexuality from the bonds of civilized morality. It came down to us from Freud and Wilhelm Reich, from Norman O. Brown and Herbert Marcuse. We needed to liberate sex because it would cure what ailed us. And besides, it would help us to overthrow the patriarchy. Orgasms uber alles.

Better yet, feminism declared war on feminine modesty and sexual propriety. Women were said to want sex as much as men. Women were encouraged to engage in sexual acts when they did not really want to. Women were encouraged to hookup and to sext… because it was a sign of having been liberated from the constraints that had oppressed women for millennia.

Fair enough. But, we are within our rights to ask how that is working out. Are women’s sex lives better or worse? Or are they barely existent?

Anyway, Julian analyzes the state of American sexuality. And she begins by noting that young Americans are having less sex than they used to have:

And yet none of the many experts I interviewed for this piece seriously challenged the idea that the average young adult circa 2018 is having less sex than his or her counterparts of decades past. Nor did anyone doubt that this reality is out of step with public perception—most of us still think that other people are having a lot more sex than they actually are.

Among the reasons, deferred marriage. Strangely enough, considering how repressive marriage was supposed to be, married couples seem clearly to have more sex than their single counterparts. Thus, if marriage is deferred or postponed people will be having less sex. Julian quotes sexpert Helen Fisher:

Fisher, like many other experts, attributes the sex decline to a decline in couplehood among young people. For a quarter century, fewer people have been marrying, and those who do have been marrying later. At first, many observers figured that the decline in marriage was explained by an increase in unmarried cohabitation—yet the share of people living together hasn’t risen enough to offset the decline in marriage: About 60 percent of adults under age 35 now live without a spouse or a partner. One in three adults in this age range live with their parents, making that the most common living arrangement for the cohort. People who live with a romantic partner tend to have sex more than those who don’t—and living with your parents is obviously bad for your sex life. But this doesn’t explain why young people are partnering up less to begin with.

As for the explanation of these phenomena, Julian hears a number of theories, some of which I have not evoked. Thus, the value of examining them:

I heard many other theories about what I have come to think of as the sex recession. I was told it might be a consequence of the hookup culture, of crushing economic pressures, of surging anxiety rates, of psychological frailty, of widespread antidepressant use, of streaming television, of environmental estrogens leaked by plastics, of dropping testosterone levels, of digital porn, of the vibrator’s golden age, of dating apps, of option paralysis, of helicopter parents, of careerism, of smartphones, of the news cycle, of information overload generally, of sleep deprivation, of obesity. Name a modern blight, and someone, somewhere, is ready to blame it for messing with the modern libido.

Surely, these all play a part. Clinical depression, for example, diminishes libido. It is well known. And yet, anti-depressants also diminish sexual lust. As for the environmental estrogens, introduced into the water supply by birth control pills… I will leave that to others.

Then again, Julian posits, it might be a good sign. People are having less sex because they have turned off to promiscuity. Apparently, they have also turned off to committed relationships, but her point is worth noting:

Some experts I spoke with offered more hopeful explanations for the decline in sex. For example, rates of childhood sexual abuse have decreased in recent decades, and abuse can lead to both precocious and promiscuous sexual behavior. And some people today may feel less pressured into sex they don’t want to have, thanks to changing gender mores and growing awareness of diverse sexual orientations, including asexuality. Maybe more people are prioritizing school or work over love and sex, at least for a time, or maybe they’re simply being extra deliberate in choosing a life partner—and if so, good for them.

Of course, having less sex with other people has not prevented people from having sex with themselves, that is, solo, or better, as Woody Allen said, sex with someone you love, yourself:

From 1992 to 2014, the share of American men who reported masturbating in a given week doubled, to 54 percent, and the share of women more than tripled, to 26 percent. Easy access to porn is part of the story, of course; in 2014, 43 percent of men said they’d watched porn in the past week. The vibrator figures in, too—a major study 10 years ago found that just over half of adult women had used one, and by all indications it has only grown in popularity.

This may or may not relate to the fact that men and women are having fewer romantic relationships. This should not come as too much of a surprise. At the risk of offending half the universe, the reason must lie in the fact that young women have chosen to postpone marriage. Thus, they reject entangling alliances in favor of career advancement. They pay a price in the lack of sexual contact:

In 1995, the large longitudinal study known as “Add Health” found that 66 percent of 17-year-old men and 74 percent of 17-year-old women had experienced “a special romantic relationship” in the past 18 months. In 2014, when the Pew Research Center asked 17-year-olds whether they had “ever dated, hooked up with or otherwise had a romantic relationship with another person”—seemingly a broader category than the earlier one—only 46 percent said yes.

Thus, fewer relationships has meant less sex:

Over the course of numerous conversations, [ psychology professor Alexandra] Solomon has come to various conclusions about hookup culture, or what might more accurately be described as lack-of-relationship culture. For one thing, she believes it is both a cause and an effect of social stunting. Or, as one of her students put it to her: “We hook up because we have no social skills. We have no social skills because we hook up.” For another, insofar as her students find themselves choosing between casual sex and no sex, they are doing so because an obvious third option—relationship sex—strikes many of them as not only unattainable but potentially irresponsible.
Nonetheless, she believes that many students have absorbed the idea that love is secondary to academic and professional success—or, at any rate, is best delayed until those other things have been secured. “Over and over,” she has written, “my undergraduates tell me they try hard not to fall in love during college, imagining that would mess up their plans.”

Given how driven women are, and given how many men seem like slugs, it is not surprising that young people of different sexes do not become romantically involved. On the other hand, it is not obvious that they know how to develop and to sustain a relationship. Without building bonds of trust, sex often becomes nasty, brutish and mean-- to misquote and misapply Thomas Hobbes.

As for the use of dating apps, apparently there’s more smoke than fire. The activity of playing with the apps seems to far exceed the number of real sexual encounters:

At least among people who don’t use dating apps, the perception exists that they facilitate casual sex with unprecedented efficiency. In reality, unless you are exceptionally good-looking, the thing online dating may be best at is sucking up large amounts of time. As of 2014, when Tinder last released such data, the average user logged in 11 times a day. Men spent 7.2 minutes per session and women spent 8.5 minutes, for a total of about an hour and a half a day. Yet they didn’t get much in return. Today, the company says it logs 1.6 billion swipes a day, and just 26 million matches. And, if Simon’s experience is any indication, the overwhelming majority of matches don’t lead to so much as a two-way text exchange, much less a date, much less sex.

And, obviously enough, #MeToo has made women a threat. Thus, men are far more circumspect about approaching women in public:

No one approaches anyone in public anymore,” said a teacher in Northern Virginia. “The dating landscape has changed. People are less likely to ask you out in real life now, or even talk to begin with,” said a 28-year-old woman in Los Angeles who volunteered that she had been single for three years….
This shift seems to be accelerating amid the national reckoning with sexual assault and harassment, and a concomitant shifting of boundaries. According to a November 2017 Economist/YouGov poll, 17 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 now believe that a man inviting a woman out for a drink “always” or “usually” constitutes sexual harassment. (Among older groups, much smaller percentages believe this.)...

Laurie Mintz, who teaches a popular undergraduate class on the psychology of sexuality at the University of Florida, told me that the #MeToo movement has made her students much more aware of issues surrounding consent. She has heard from many young men who are productively reexamining their past actions and working diligently to learn from the experiences of friends and partners. But others have described less healthy reactions, like avoiding romantic overtures for fear that they might be unwelcome. In my own conversations, men and women alike spoke of a new tentativeness and hesitancy. One woman who described herself as a passionate feminist said she felt empathy for the pressure that heterosexual dating puts on men. “I think I owe it to them, in this current cultural moment particularly, to try to treat them like they’re human beings taking a risk talking to a stranger,” she wrote me. “There are a lot of lonely, confused people out there, who have no idea what to do or how to date.”

So, #MeToo has made men feel guilty. And guilt does not enhance sexual desire. Of course, if it’s just about sex, men and even women can solve the problem by hiring someone on the open market.

And then there is porn. And especially the expectation that sexual behavior should imitate what men see on porn sights. This is not only appalling; it is dangerous. Many of the activities are downright dangerous:

One especially springlike morning in May, as Debby Herbenick and I walked her baby through a park in Bloomington, Indiana, she shared a bit of advice she sometimes offers students at Indiana University, where she is a leading sex researcher. “If you’re with somebody for the first time,” she said evenly, “don’t choke them, don’t ejaculate on their face, don’t try to have anal sex with them. These are all things that are just unlikely to go over well.”

No kidding. Worse yet, young women feel compelled to do what porn stars do. They find the experience painful and degrading… and thus get turned off to sex:

Back in 1992, the big University of Chicago survey reported that 20 percent of women in their late 20s had tried anal sex; in 2012, the NSSHB found a rate twice that. She also told me about new data suggesting that, compared with previous generations, young people today are more likely to engage in sexual behaviors prevalent in porn, like the ones she warns her students against springing on a partner. All of this might be scaring some people off, she thought, and contributing to the sex decline….

Some of Herbenick’s most sobering research concerns the prevalence of painful sex. In 2012, 30 percent of women said they’d experienced pain the last time they’d had vaginal intercourse; during anal intercourse, 72 percent had. Whether or not these rates represent an increase (we have no basis for comparison), they are troublingly high….

Outside of porn, some people do enjoy what’s known as erotic asphyxiation—they say restricting oxygen to the brain can make for more intense orgasms—but it is dangerous and ranks high on the list of things you shouldn’t do to someone unless asked to. Tess, a 31-year-old woman in San Francisco, mentioned that her past few sexual experiences had been with slightly younger men. “I’ve noticed that they tend to go for choking without prior discussion,” she said. Anna, the woman who described how dating apps could avert awkwardness, told me she’d been choked so many times that at first, she figured it was normal. “A lot of people don’t realize you have to ask,” she said.

If this is what sex is about, you can understand why so many women are turned off by it. And, of course, hookups are no better:

Learning sex in the context of one-off hookups isn’t helping either. Research suggests that, for most people, casual sex tends to be less physically pleasurable than sex with a regular partner.

Who knew?

1 comment:

Derek Ramsey said...

"Kate Julian has written a good article"

A good article? You are way too generous. Compare it to what you wrote:

"What caused the American libido to run dry? Was it porn? Was it early sex education? Was it Puritanical repression? Was it feminism? Was it the sexual revolution? Or was it the loss of a sense of modesty, a sense of shame. Letting it all hang out… so to speak… being open and honest about sexuality seems to have killed sexual desire."

She thinks that sex education should increase sexual activity. She does not even mention feminism, the sexual revolution, divorce, or abortion as factors in decreased sexual activity. In her tweet she mentions that she is surprised that porn and, as you've phrased it, "letting it all hang out" isn't resulting in increased sexual activity.

She does identify that more sex happens in marriage and that marriage rates have been in decline, but she thinks the changes have happened in the last 25 years. Median marriage age started increasing in the 60's and began rapidly increasing in the 70's and it has not looked back. The median age a woman married has changed from 20 to 28.

It's one of the most tone deaf discussions of the subject that I have ever read.