Americans — especially young heterosexual men — are reporting less sexual activity, per a study that looks at the past 18 years.
Why it matters: Given that sex and reproduction are fairly key to a society having a future, the results raise eyebrows. But what the survey really shows is how technology has fundamentally altered how human beings socialize.
What's new: In a study published on June 12 in JAMA, researchers analyzed survey responses between 2000 and 2018 to look at frequency of sexual activity and the number of sexual partners for men and women between 18 and 44.
- With few exceptions, sexual activity showed a marked decline — especially among young men and especially in recent years.
- Nearly a third of men aged 18–24 reported no sexual partners over the previous year in 2016–18, up from 18.3% in 2000–02. The drop was particularly sharp among men who were unemployed or reported lower income.
- The percentage of women who reported no sexual partners also increased over the same time period, albeit less sharply. The only exception was women aged 35–44.
What's happening: In a commentary appearing with the study, psychologist Jean Twenge outlined a few possible explanations for the drop in sexual activity. These include general delay in achieving the markers of adulthood — including living at home longer — as well as the increase in the availability of pornography.
- But sexual frequency has also been decreasing among married and older people who presumably have reached adulthood, and Twenge argues there isn't a clear link between pornography consumption and reduced sexual activity.
- Instead, Twenge puts much of the blame on everyone's all-purpose scourge: the internet. With digital entertainment of all sorts available on demand, time spent online displaces face-to-face social interaction, which generally is required for sexual activity.
Of note: A new report from the Brookings Institution estimates that the U.S. could see up to 500,000 fewer births next year because of the COVID-19 recession.
The bottom line: Increasingly, we'd rather canoodle with our phones than each other — and COVID-19 will only accelerate that trend.