Young People In The US Are Having Way Less Sex Than Previous Generations

Young couple enjoying the silent disco stage at Exit festival on July 7, 2017, in Petrovaradin fortress in Novi Sad, Serbia.  ToskanaINC/Shutterstock

The age of Tinder is a strangely sexless one, apparently. Most young people in the US are having way less than previous generations, according to a new study. Not only are more adults experiencing long dry spells or totally abstaining from sex, but even the adults who are having sex are having it less often.

Published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, researchers from San Diego State University and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden surveyed the sex lives of almost 10,000 adults between 2000 and 2018. 

The chief finding was that sexual inactivity increased among men aged 18 to 24 years and 25 to 34 years, and women aged 25 to 34 years over the 18-year period. This trend, however, was bucked by people who identify as gay or bisexual as they were one of the only social subgroups that had not recently experienced a decrease in sexual activity.

It also found that on average one-in-three men aged 18 to 24 years reported no sexual activity in the past year. The most likely groups of men to fit into this bracket were unemployed, students, or lower-income with part-time employment. On the other hand, around one-in-five women aged 18 to 24 years were reportedly sexually inactive in the past year. 

Even people who are sexually active have been reporting less sex over the two decades. While 51 percent of men aged 18 to 24 reported having sex weekly in 2000-2002, that figure slipped to 37 percent by the years 2016-2018. For women, the proportion who had sex at least once a week fell from 66 percent to 54 percent. Married men and women also both reported a decrease in sexual activity at a weekly level. 

The researchers also highlighted a trend toward an increase in people reporting three or more partners, which was mainly driven by women aged 25 to 34 years. Through a brief comparison of historic surveys, they also found the number of adults who have never had sex was higher among those born in the 1990s compared to those born in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s.

Before you ask, the statistics have nothing to do with the recent lockdown as the data was gathered before the pandemic and the data appears to reflect a wider trend seen in many parts of the world over recent years. 

The study authors note, however, that their surveys might not account for everybody’s own interpretation of what sex or sexual activity is. For some, the term “sex” or even "sexual activity" might be strictly limited to intercourse, but for many others, it could include anal sex, oral sex, mutual masturbation, cybersex, phone sex, you name it. This data, perhaps, could have been swayed by changing definitions or interpretations, rather than less intimate activity. 

Beyond differences in interpretation, the survey did not explicitly look to understand what’s driving this general decrease in sexual activity. However, the researchers suspect it has something to do with the stresses of 21st-century living and easy access to electronic media. 

“Put simply, there are now many more choices of things to do in the late evening than there once were and fewer opportunities to initiate sexual activity if both partners are engrossed in social media, electronic gaming, or binge-watching,” Jean Twenge, from the department of psychology in San Diego State University said in an editorial accompanying the report.

“It seems clear that the trend toward less sexual activity has not occurred in isolation; it coincides with other substantial cultural shifts, such as the slowing of the developmental trajectory and the increase in time spent on electronic media.”

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