Americans just aren’t getting busy like they used to. According to a new analysis, the annual number of sex acts reported by U.S. residents has declined during the internet era. Flying in the face of presumptions that millennials are widely besotted by hookup culture, the new study finds that today’s young adults are actually having sex less than previous generations.
Publishing their findings in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers analyzed data through 2014 from the General Social Survey, which includes a nationally representative sample of Americans. Since 1989, the survey has asked 26,620 participants ages 18 and older how often they have sex.
Between 1989 and 1994, the average number of reported annual sex acts was 60.35 among all adults. This figure then rose slightly, to 62.36 between 1995 and 1999 and 62.03 between 2000 and 2004. Then it started to fall: to 58.05 between 2005 and 2009 and 53.71 between 2010 and 2014.
The steep decline in reported annual sex acts seen since 2000 was the greatest among those in their 50s, those with a college degree, married individuals, those with children at home between ages 6 and 12 and those who had not seen a pornographic film during the previous year. There was no significant decline among those: older than 60, who had children under age 6, who did not live with their partners, who did not have a steady partner and who were never married.
All told, younger people had sex more often than older ones, men more often than women, non-whites more often than whites, residents of the West more often than those living in other regions, those living with a partner more often than those who were never married, those with minor children in the household more often than those without and those who watched porn in the last year more often than those who did not.
After separating the effects of age, time period and birth cohort (or generation), researchers found that the overall decline in sexual frequency since 2000 was largely a function of generational changes. The average American born during the 1990s had sex about six times a year less often than the average American born in the 1930s, after controlling for age and time period. This generational decline in sexual activity was similar across sex, race, religion and the presence of minor children in the household.
The researchers attributed much of the decline in overall sexual activity to a reduction in the number of married individuals. Additionally, those who were married saw a steep decline in the rate of sex, thus narrowing the gap in sexual activity between those who were and were not married. (Married people tend to have sex more than unmarried ones.)
The decline in the sex rate among married and partnered individuals did not appear to be a result of longer work hours or a greater consumption of pornography (these factors were associated with higher sexual frequency). Lacking proper data from this survey, the study authors theorized that the sexual drop-off may have been driven by greater entertainment and social communication options, such as streaming video and social media, as well as overall declines in happiness and increases in depression rates.
The investigators further speculated that the trend toward having children later in life may create a “perfect storm” for married couples in which they both have school-age children at home and are older, two factors associated with a decline in sexual activity.
Broken down by age, overall sexual frequency was greatest at more than 80 times per year in people in their mid-to-late 20s, and progressively less frequent in subsequent age ranges, hitting about 30 times per year among those in their mid-60s. For those 70 and older, the reported annual number of sex acts did not change significantly during the study period, ranging between nine and 10.88 times per year.
To read the study abstract, click here.