Despite having far more access to information, people, and safer sex products, people now, in 2022, are having less sex than past generations. Why? Let’s get into it.
Teens are waiting longer to have their first sexual experiences. University students are having less sex. Young adults are waiting longer to get married and they’re having fewer children. Increased stress and mental health concerns leave everyone simply not in the mood… and economic hardship, multiple pandemics, the political climate, and other cultural shifts aren’t getting anyone hot and horny.
Consequences of Capitalism
The classic narrative that Millennials can’t buy houses because they spend too much money on avocado toast is nearly universal – but it’s true that “young people today are generally poorer and more anxious and depressed than those before them. They can’t afford to go out as much; bars and clubs are more expensive, and even before the pandemic, there were fewer and fewer places to go.” This is referred to as “the general malaise of life under capitalism” theory. Let’s face it, very few people want to bring someone home to their parents’ house… and even fewer people want to be brought home to someone’s parents’ house.
We’re also just straight-up busy. More women are in the workforce now, getting college educations and advanced degrees, and these same people still have kids and hobbies and friendships… that’s a lot. So when you fall into bed after a sixteen-hour day, sex might be the last thing on your mind.
Hookups or Public Health
While for some couples, the lockdowns and quarantines that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic brought them together and made them stronger. Alternatively, many places saw increases in divorce rates as a result of prolonged close quarters.
For the people who were single and/or living alone, it’s not at all surprising that loneliness set in at one point or another. Dating apps incorporated video-based and socially distant dating and while some people took advantage, others prioritized their health and safety over dating and interpersonal contact.
After all, it’s quite hard to meet the love of your life while you’re sitting on your couch rewatching The Office (again)… but then again, it’s not your fault that bars and restaurants are closed, and staying home might be the difference between life and death for you or your loved ones.
Public Policy at Play
Governmental policies affect sexual experimentation. If you aren’t able to terminate an unplanned pregnancy after a hookup, you’re going to be a lot more likely to be choosy regarding your sexual partners. Similarly, without insurance or access to STI treatment, PrEP, or contraception, you might not take sexual risks and instead, just not have sex.
There’s no shortage of placing blame on social media – more time on social media means less time for human connection or in-person intimacy. It has been proven that social media affects self-esteem, which definitely relates to sexual practice.
Yet, these arguments neglect to include that cyber-sex technology – digital erotica, sex toys, webcamming, sexting, and even virtual reality sexual experiences – provides safe spaces for sexual play without leaving your home. For many people, there are safety risks to dating… why deal with disgusting bar bathrooms or awkward dates when you are all that you need?
The Sex Recession is also a result of cultural shifts – between women’s empowerment and the #MeToo movement, people are more able or willing to speak up for what they want and need. Moreover, people are more likely to understand and actively adhere to conversations about consent, and face consequences if they violate consent.
We’ve also worked hard to redefine ‘sexy.’ More body types and identities are being shown as ‘sexy’ in mainstream media. The media itself is also changing. I love this article which talks about the recent emergence of ‘sexless shows.’ The author explains, “the trend to plaster our screens with explicit sex is dying out with more and more contemporary shows are beginning to shun the sex scene. In its place, we are treated to polite, distant yearning or, ever a classic, the slow fade to black” (think Netflix’s Bridgerton).
Sex Isn’t Going Anywhere
I think the phenomenon of The Sex Recession is a scare tactic. We are no longer having sex or being sexual in the ways that serve ‘the man’ (metaphorically and literally). Women and vulva owners are redefining our sexuality so that it serves us – not the economy, not the government, and no one but ourselves and the people we choose to share it with.
If you ask me, I don’t think we need to worry – I have no doubt that sex is here to stay. However, the way we show up in relationships, in the bedroom, and in the narratives of our mind is something collectively, as a society, we need to work on.
Gillian ‘Gigi’ Singer, MPH
American Board Certified Sexologist, Sexuality Educator, and Sex Ed Content Specialist