Although there’s arguably less prejudice around sex and it’s easier to hookup more than ever thanks to the boom of online dating apps, the number of Americans who reported having had no sex in the past year has reached an all-time high. Part of this trend can be explained by an aging population but what’s surprising is the relatively large share of twenty-something-year-olds, both men and women, who fall into this category. The number of celibate men overwhelmingly outnumber women, which researchers pin to lower labor force participation among young men since the recession.
The sex drought
According to the most recent data from the General Social Survey, 23% of adult Americans spent 2018 in a celibate state — up from 19% three decades ago. One might argue that this decline in sexual activity can be explained by age. It is true that in the intervening decades, the share of people 60 and older has risen from 18% in 1996 to 26% in 2018. Around 50% of all individuals falling in this age bracket report having had no sex in the past year. However, the data suggests that an even bigger role may be played by the younger generation.
Astonishingly, 28% of men between 18 and 30 haven’t had sex in the past year, which is three times the 2008 figure. Young women are also having less sex, but have experienced only an 8% increase in the share of celibacy.
Meanwhile, Americans in the middle of the age bracket — those in their 30s and 40s — are considerably more likely to have had sex in a given year. These people are also more likely to be married or in a relationship which explains why they are fewer celibates in this group.
Researchers haven’t been oblivious to these trends, which some have called a “sex drought” or “sex recession”. Funny enough, the last major recession which happened in 2008 may have played an important role in the skewed male/female sex dynamic. Young men are more likely to live with their parents than young women. Suffice to say, those are not the best logistics to be having sex nor is the prospect of a grown man living with his parents appealing to most young women. Young men today are also less likely to have a job than before the last recession and previous research established a correlation between males who participate in the labor force and stable relationships. For instance, the survey found that 54% of unemployed Americans didn’t have a steady romantic partner compared to 32% among the employed.
Modern lifestyles may also play a major role. Sleep deprivation, bad diets, and obesity are all on the rise, and these are known to affect a person’s libido. People also have a lot of distractions on their hand nowadays. Why go on a date when you can actually Netflix and chill. And dating apps like Tinder aren’t exactly making things easier — in fact, they seem to be a waste of time for most people. It takes an average of more than 60 swipes to get one match and conversations between matches generally fizzle out after a few back and forths as people get bored and move on to the next shiny thing. Compared to 1996, the new survey shows that the share of people having sex once a week or more has declined from 51% in 1996 to 39% in 2018.
Something is clearly wrong. But it could always be worse. In Japan in 2015, 43% of young people (ages 18 to 34) were virgins and 47% of married couples said it had been more than a month since they had sex.