Not Having Sex? Neither Is Anyone Else in America


At the rate that things are going in American bedrooms, millennials may end up having sex less frequently than their grandparents do. New research, taking into account sexual frequency over many generations, shows that people born in the 1990s are having sex way less often than people born in the 1930s. Taking into account the general trend that Americans had sex nine fewer times per year from 2010 to 2014 compared to the 1995-1999 period, this may be cause for concern — and scientists are beginning to worry that our failing libidos are a sign of our declining happiness.

“I think the main concern here is that sex is linked to happiness, and we know that happiness is down among adults 30 and over,” San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge, Ph.D., tells Inverse by e-mail. “If this is a sign that people are connecting less with each other, that’s a concern. It’s hard to say whether the trend will continue — it might if people continue to spend so much time on screen-based entertainment. There’s just so many more things to do at night now than there once was.”

Whether or not this trend will continue is uncertain, says Twenge, whose team has just published a paper on their findings in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. While she and her team describe a decidedly unsexy situation in their report, the numbers don’t indicate whether Americans will want to get down with each other any more often, anytime soon.

Estimated times per year American adults had sex, by marital status, 1989-2014.

Jean Twenge, Ryne Sherman, Brooke Wells

Twenge and her team came to this conclusions about millennial sex by examining the survey responses from a sample of 26,000 Americans who had been asked about their sexual behavior and histories since 1989. A decline in sexual frequency was nearly ubiquitous across those surveyed, affecting people across races, education levels, and geographic location. However, the decline was also largest among white people, those in their 50s, people with children aged six to 12, people who hadn’t seen a pornographic movie in a year, and married people.

The decline wasn’t significant for people without a steady partner and for those who have never married — but previous research by Twenge also demonstrated that people born in the 1980s and 1990s were more likely to report no sexual partners compared to people born in the 1960s and 1970s. That reality, combined with the result from this study that found married people are having less sex, has created a perfect storm of chaste Americans.

“We found that these young generations [Millennials and iGen] have sex less frequently than previous generations did at the same age,” says Twenge. “The Millennials and iGen are settling into adult relationships at much later ages than previous generations. Interestingly, that doesn’t mean that they are making this up with hookups.”

Twenge explains that the average person today doesn’t have as much sex in hookups as they would in a relationship. Age typically has an effect on sexual frequency — twenty-somethings have sex an average of about 80 times a year compared to the 20 times a year people in their sixties do it — so in her early work she hypothesized that married couples have less sex because married couples are also older. While that may be true, the reality is that young, single people aren’t having as much sex as they used to, either. Whether or not America’s sexless youth will lead to the appointment of a “demographics expert,” like Spain did to deal with a dwindling birth rate, remains to be seen. Less sex means less babies and the birth rate in the United States has definitely gone down, but it’s unclear whether experts are interpreting that as a positive or a negative sign.