“I don’t want to alarm you, but I think we’re amidst some sort of sex crisis,” I recently announced to a melange of friends over dinner. After years of absorbing our collective dating habits, woes, and commitments I had seen a commonality as of late: a romp between the sheets seemed as hard to come by on these days as premium caviar. With thousands of people just a few swipes away via Bumble, Hinge, Tinder, and the like, one might think we would be in the height of getting it on. But what I was seeing was much less action and much more celibacy among my single friends. Being the amateur anthropologist that I like to think of myself as, I turned to Google to see if there were any numbers to support my street view of the case.
Turns out there were numbers, and they weren’t sexy at all. A 2017 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that between 1991 and 2017, the rate of teens who had ever had intercourse as well as the rate of teens engaging in sexual activity at the time of the survey consistently plummeted. While this study relates specifically to teenagers, those individuals are now the Millennials who make up the biggest demographic of the dating pool today. They’re the same demographic that was raised on the milk of social media and cell phones. Is it any surprise they naturally gravitate toward slipping into someone’s DMs over intimacy IRL? No. But is this pick-up tactic harming us? Possibly.
In the age of dating apps, social media, and porn all competing for our phone storage, it is all too easy to feel as though we’re holding proximity to connection, but never too close. While these forms of contact have provided us with more choices than ever before, they are also designed more like a game than matters of the heart, continuing to perpetuate the feeling that there are endless potential mates. It’s possible our gluttony for options has made us tired and lazy, leading to less approaching, less action, and in turn much less intimacy. The effects aren’t just being seen within the US: countries like Italy, France, Russia, and Sweden are seeing a consistent decrease in birth rates as well.
There is no doubt that we’re a society that has inflated the importance of independence, glorifying the degree to which you do not need anyone else. But this paired with all the virtual hours we clock seemingly adds to the decline of close relationships. This could be detrimental to our practice of closeness, as described in the book Conscious Loving by Gay Hendricks, Ph.D. & Kathlyn Hendricks, Ph.D: “True independence requires that you be able to relate closely to others while maintaining your sense of self.” I fear we are slipping further away from knowing how to open ourselves to others authentically while remaining autonomous, prioritizing connecting to the Wi-Fi over connecting to each other.
“The question is: will the sex recession continue?”
This whole chastity thing isn’t all bad though. It’s worth noting how better sex education and safe practices have also gotten us here. With massive steps toward equality and more open conversations about consent, younger generations may be using their knowledge to exercise their right to be choosier about who they’re sleeping with. Further, as we move away from women needing to be financially dependent on their partners, there’s less pressure to commit to someone as a way out of one’s parents’ house and allowing the freedom to find a co-committed partner on their terms. And with our ever-growing understanding of the effects the population has on our environment, people are growing wary about adding to our swelling civilization by having children.
Ultimately, the future of our romantic lives are in our hands (and devices). The question is: will the sex recession continue?