No civilization in human history has been as sex-drenched as modern-day America. TV shows, music, and even commercials constantly reference sex. An unlimited number of free pornographic clips of every imaginable variety and sort are available to anyone with an Internet connection, and Americans have a libertine attitude about sex. It has gotten so over-the-top that I had an acquaintance who managed to get lots of TV and press attention just by writing a book saying that she’s not a virgin, but that she intends to remain chaste until marriage.
Yet, intriguingly, according to a much-discussed article in The Atlantic, Americans are in the middle of a sex recession.
To the relief of many parents, educators, and clergy members who care about the health and well-being of young people, teens are launching their sex lives later. From 1991 to 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey finds, the percentage of high-school students who’d had intercourse dropped from 54 to 40 percent. In other words, in the space of a generation, sex has gone from something most high-school students have experienced to something most haven’t. (And no, they aren’t having oral sex instead—that rate hasn’t changed much.)
Meanwhile, the U.S. teen pregnancy rate has plummeted to a third of its modern high. When this decline started, in the 1990s, it was widely and rightly embraced. But now some observers are beginning to wonder whether an unambiguously good thing might have roots in less salubrious developments. Signs are gathering that the delay in teen sex may have been the first indication of a broader withdrawal from physical intimacy that extends well into adulthood.
Over the past few years, Jean M. Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, has published research exploring how and why Americans’ sex lives may be ebbing. In a series of journal articles and in her latest book, iGen, she notes that today’s young adults are on track to have fewer sex partners than members of the two preceding generations. People now in their early 20s are two and a half times as likely to be abstinent as Gen Xers were at that age; 15 percent report having had no sex since they reached adulthood.
Gen Xers and Baby Boomers may also be having less sex today than previous generations did at the same age. From the late 1990s to 2014, Twenge found, drawing on data from the General Social Survey, the average adult went from having sex 62 times a year to 54 times. A given person might not notice this decrease, but nationally, it adds up to a lot of missing sex. Twenge recently took a look at the latest General Social Survey data, from 2016, and told me that in the two years following her study, sexual frequency fell even further.
If we could chalk all of this up to a revitalized Christian church that was inculcating old-school moral values into kids, that would be good news. However, if anything, the church in America is in decline. So, if we’re talking about sex more than ever, focused on sex more than ever, and there are seemingly fewer impediments to having sex than ever, why are we not having more sex? The Atlantic has some theories, but I think that for the most part, it missed the boat on the real reasons behind this.
There are all sorts of arguments and counter-arguments about whether pornography is physiologically detrimental to men. I’m strongly inclined to believe that it is, but wherever you fall on that particular argument, here’s what can’t be argued: it’s training men to become sexually aroused by something other than normal sexual contact with a woman. Furthermore, while pornography has been around as long as mankind in some form, porn-streaming websites are a completely different animal than what humans have been exposed to throughout their history. We now live in an era where a man can see a hundred different naked women of varying colors, sizes, ages, and body types performing an unlimited number of different fetishes before breakfast. He doesn’t have to buy them dinner. He doesn’t have to talk to them for three hours. He doesn’t even have to get out of his underwear and ratty t-shirt to get sexual satisfaction. Does that make pornography a replacement for women? No, but it’s very easy to see how it makes interactions with women less natural, less exciting, and less necessary.
2. The proliferation of entertainment choices
There’s a concept in economics called “opportunity cost.” Basically, it just means that you can’t use the same resources for two things. You can’t use the same $100 to buy groceries and gas or you can’t buy $100 worth of groceries and use the same money to invest in stocks. In other words, to take advantage of one opportunity, you have to forego the other. Think about that concept in regards to entertainment. Today, even poor Americans have access to a multitude of entertainment options that even the richest, most privileged kings couldn’t enjoy 100 years ago. Today, in your own home, there is a wide assortment of exciting video games, an unlimited number of movies and TV shows, hundreds of millions of user-made videos, sports from around the globe, social networks where you talk to people from every country, and an unlimited number of websites to peruse. When our ancestors had a choice between sitting at home watching the fire until it burnt out or going out somewhere where they could meet girls, it was a pretty easy decision. For a lot of Americans, watching Walking Dead marathons and trying to get to level 92 so you can save the princess from the Big Boss is often more appealing than going out somewhere hoping to meet a girl.
3. Less socializing in person
As Robert Putnam describes in his book Bowling Alone, the amount of socializing Americans do with each other has dropped precipitously over the last few decades. In almost every way imaginable, from church to team sports to civic organizations to volunteering to club meetings, we’re doing less of it. Putnam put a good portion of the blame on TV in his book and the bevy of entertainment options available because of the Internet has undoubtedly only accelerated the trend. Additionally, it may be nice to have “friends” on social media, but are you meeting them for pizza? Are you going to parties together? Are you hanging out at each other’s homes? For the most part, the answer to that question is “no.” As I once told a female friend in another city camped out in her room and complaining because she wasn’t dating anyone, “If you want to meet someone, you’ll have to leave your house.”
4. Less attraction to the opposite sex
Feminism has made women more masculine and thus, less attractive to the opposite sex. Similarly, for a variety of reasons, men have become more feminine, thus making them less attractive to the opposite sex. Additionally, both sexes have gotten much fatter than they used to be. For example, compare Americans to the Japanese,
Only 3.6 percent of Japanese have a body mass index (BMI) over 30, which is the international standard for obesity, whereas 32.0 percent of Americans do. A total of 66.5 percent of Americans have a BMI over 25, making them overweight, but only 24.7 percent of Japanese.
The farther we move away from the sexual ideals of the other gender and toward being a bunch of overweight girly men and chubby butch chicks, the less sex we’ll be having.
5. Female ego inflation
When I interviewed the notorious pickup artist Roosh, one of the things we discussed was how ego inflation has impacted women. What’s ego inflation? Well, imagine that you’re an attractive woman 100 years ago. There’s no Internet, no social media, and no online dating websites. You probably don’t travel a lot and large cities aren’t as prevalent. How often do you hear that you’re attractive from the opposite sex? A few times per week? Maybe? Now take an equally attractive woman today. She puts up a picture on Facebook or Instagram and gets hundreds, maybe thousands of likes. Guys she doesn’t know are sending her pictures of their junk every week. She gets on an online dating website in a big city and gets 100 responses per day (or several hundred in a month in a smaller city). Even an average woman gets far more ego inflation in a day than an attractive woman used to get in a month in your grandmother’s generation. So, what happens? Well, because these women dramatically overestimate their value in the sexual marketplace based on the overwhelming response they’re getting, they reject the sort of men they could reasonably land and hold out for men who aren’t going to be interested in them.