Americans are having less sex than 20 years ago, and researchers think it might be deliberate
American adults are having sex less often than they were 20 years ago, according a study based on a survey of almost 27,000 individuals.
Researchers have found that adults, on average, were having sex seven fewer times annually in the early 2010s compared to the early 1990s, and nine fewer times compared to the late 1990s.
The study follows research published by the same team last year which found that the percentage of adults aged between 20 and 24 who had had no sexual partner after the age of 18 had more than doubled between those born in the 1960s and the 1990s, rising from 6 per cent to 15 per cent.
Taken together it would seem that millennials are having less sex, but the finding is not necessary bleak. “It is very possible that for young people this is a conscious life choice,” said Ryne Sherman, co-author of the study from Florida Atlantic University, pointing out that millennials might be choosing to spend their time in other pursuits or could simply be more empowered in their sex lives.
Published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour by Sherman and colleagues from San Diego State University and Widener University, the latest study describes the analysis of data from a nationally representative group of more than 26,600 individuals from the US, around 96 per cent of whom identified as heterosexual. The data was collected between 1989 and 2014 through the General Social Survey – a nationwide study conducted most years since 1972 that investigates the opinions and behaviour of US adults.
The team focused on the answer to the question, included in the survey since 1989, “About how often did you have sex during the last 12 months?”. Participants could answer on a 0-6 scale, where “0” was never and “6” corresponded to more than three times a week. While some refused to answer the question, or did not know the answer, 94 per cent of participants responded. The team then converted the responses to an estimate of how often participants had sex per year.
The results reveal that on average across all time periods and generations, those with a steady partner unsurprisingly have sex more often than those without.
Older adults, meanwhile, have sex less often than younger adults: for each year after the age of 25, adults, on average, had sex 1.18 fewer times a year, corresponding to a fall from about 80 times a year for those in their mid twenties to about 20 times a year for those in their mid sixties.
The study also showed that American adults, on average, were having sex on nine fewer occasions a year in the early 2010s compared to the late 1990s, with a decrease seen across almost all ages, races, regions and for those both with and without children. While the frequency of sex among those who are married or were living with a partner decreased over time, the frequency for those without such a partner remained largely unchanged.
The overall trend for a decline in sex appears to be largely a cohort effect, meaning that how often adults have sex has changed between generations, with millennials, and those born since 1995, having sex about six times fewer a year for a given age than those born in the 1930s.
Overall, the study reveals that the decline in sex over the years is largely down a rise in the number of individuals who are unmarried or have no steady partner, and a decrease in sex among those who are married or have steady partners.
The authors suggest the trends are likely down to a number of influences. “One [possible factor] is the ‘failure to launch’ thing,” said Sherman, pointing out that young people are living at home for longer, possibly affecting their ability to form relationships.
With the study finding that longer working hours and watching pornography were both linked to an increase in the frequency of sex, Sherman suggests the drop among those in steady relationships could be down to other changes in culture.
Among them, the team suggests the rise of social media and other forms of entertainment such as Netflix could be replacing time spent with a partner, while an increase in depression or decrease in marital satisfaction could also be at play. It is also possible, says Sherman, that the dynamics between men and women in relationships have changed, affecting how often they have sex. “That’s one of the big things that has changed over the course of time – men and women’s gender roles both at work and at home,” he said. Another factor, the study notes, is that there might be differences in what is considered as sex between generations.