Not much seems to be happening, or at least very often, between the sheets among young adults. This surprising and eye-opening news was published in a 2020 study in JAMA Network Open that found the frequency of sexual activity among young adults (18 to 44) has been dropping fairly substantially in the 21st century which started even before the pandemic arrived. Sort of like a ‘sex recession’ as described in a 2018 article in The Atlantic magazine.
How could this be? Our culture has become increasingly highly sexualized and permissive so you’d assume there’s more sex going on than ever before among young adults. Apparently not. The message from the 2020 study was young people and even married couples are having less sex which is concerning. One part of our overall health is the quality of sex couples have. If sexual intimacy is on a downward spiral, the question is why?
Study results from JAMA Network Open
Research that took almost two decades (2000 to 2018) and involved around 10,000 adults, found interesting data that included the following:
- Nineteen percent of men, ages 18 to 24, from 2000 to 2002, reported no sexual activity during this time frame. That number jumped to 31 percent by 2016 to 2018.
- For women, nearly one in five or 19 percent, reported being sexually inactive from 2016 to 2018.
- From 2000 to 2002, 71 percent and 69 percent of married men and women, respectively, reported having sex weekly. In 2016 to 2018, the percentage dropped to 58 and 61 percent of married men and women, respectively, having weekly sex.
Why the drop in sex?
The frequency of sex is a very personal matter. Some couples have strong libidos having sex several times a week while other couples are perfectly satisfied with less intimacy. The question is why now are fewer couples, married or single, opting to curtail sexual activity?
The answer, just like relationships, is it’s complicated. However, there are many theories and explanations as to why this is happening. Here are a few reasons why from the study:
- Our busy lifestyles are getting in the way. We’re working longer and harder than ever, leaving little time or energy for showing affection towards our partners.
- We are focused way too much on our electronic gadgets. Look up from checking your phone and see how many of us have our heads glued to these devices. While we may be ‘connecting’ online with one another, it’s not the same as physically in person. Young adults are often lacking in social skills such as knowing how to carry on a conversation. Spending too much on our screens means less time focusing on each other.
- Young adults have spent a good majority of their lives online. Whether on cell phones, YouTube, or playing video games, technology has killed the younger generations’ social and intimacy skills on understanding what it takes to be in and how to make an intimate relationship work.
- The decline in sexual activity could also be related to rising rates of depression and anxiety in young adults. Antidepressants also play a role in reducing libido.
- Even though the study was conducted pre-pandemic, Covid-19 has not helped people on forming new intimate relationships. Social distancing and increased anxiety of human to human contact has made it more difficult for finding a potential love match.
How often should a couple have sex?
While there is no recommendation of how frequently a person should have sex, what many of us are interested in is are we ‘normal’ or not in how often it happens when compared to other couples? Science has studied this question and has come up with a fairly accurate idea. According to a 2017 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, the average adult gets bedroom action 54 times a year. Another study published in 2015 linked the frequency of sex to happiness. Researchers found that couples who have sex at least once a week are happier with their relationship than couples who have sex less often.
Comparing ourselves to other couples’ sexual frequency is really not the point. If that’s what it takes to feel good about your sex life, you likely have other problems going on. Instead, focus on whatever feels right and comfortable for you and your partner. That is what your normal should be. We’re not in competition with others. Have sex as frequently or as little as you want.
The frequency of how often you have sex is based on many factors that include your age, values, lifestyle, innate sex drive, health, and the quality of your relationship. It also depends on sexual satiation. Satiation refers to the state produced by a specific need, such as hunger, thirst, and yes, sex, fulfilled. Some couples have a high satiation need while others much lower. Problems can arise if one person in the relationship has a high satiation need while the other partner’s satiation need is lower. It always best when each partner is on the same sex satiation wavelength.
To improve sexual satiation, it’s very important for couples to talk about what’s comfortable and feels right in terms of frequency. Sometimes a professional sex counselor can be a valuable part of guiding couples in finding what’s right for them.
Bottom line, couples in a loving relationship that express their needs, avoid judging one another, and focus on achieving and maintaining sexual intimacy, are far more likely to achieve sexual satisfaction for a lifetime.