clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

People are having less sex — maybe because of all our screen time

New, 16 comments

Is ‘Netflix and chill’ a lie?

Prince Harry Visits The Caribbean - Day 11 Photo by Chris Jackson – Pool/Getty Images

Americans are having less sex — and it might be because more people don’t have a stable partner or spouse, or because we spend more time binge-watching TV shows and browsing social media. Either way, it’s bleak, guys.

A new study, published this week in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, shows that in the 1990s, Americans generally had sex from about 60 to 65 times a year; but by 2014, the average American had sex about 53 times a year. Millennials and Generation Z were also found to have sex less often than any previous generation. Instead, people over 70 are still getting it: they actually had more sex in 2014 than in 1989.

Sex can actually be good for your body and your mind. (Though sex is not without risks: unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, for example.) A small study found that an active sex life may make you happier and more engaged at work. So what’s happening to us? Why are Americans spending less time in the bedroom (or the kitchen floor)? The researchers rule out two reasons: longer work hours and pornography. Spending more time at the office or watching porn were actually linked to busier sex lives, the study says.

While the decline is true for people of all ages, genders, race, marriage status, or place where they live, one group is being hit particularly bad: married couples. People who are married usually have more sex than singles (of course they do, they have it easy: they have a stable partner). But their “sex advantage” is actually declining. Married couples had sex an average of 56 times a year in 2014, down from 67 in 1989. At the same time, the researchers say, more people are single or stay unmarried in their 20s — so they have less sex because they don’t have stable partners. In fact, the percentage of Americans aged 18 to 29 not living with a partner (married or unmarried) increased to 64 percent in 2014 from 48 percent in 2005.

It’s not 100 percent clear why sexual activity is down. The study points to some possible culprits, like a decline in happiness in people over 30 that was found in another study by two of the same authors. But another reason might be tied to cultural changes that have happened in the past 20 years — namely, the rise of social media and video streaming, the authors speculate. In short, Americans could have less sex because they’re spending their nights watching Netflix and scrolling through Facebook.

That seems like a valid explanation, says Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of the upcoming book Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy, who did not take part in the study. “Look around you — people out to dinner often seem more interested in the box in front of them than in the person across from them,” Regnerus wrote in an email to The Verge. “Of course sex will suffer under such circumstances.”

The study has some limitations. The researchers analyzed data from the General Social Survey, a nationwide survey of adult Americans that is nationally representative, and therefore mostly applies to heterosexual people. People also define “sex” differently, so some respondents might include masturbation — solo or together — as sex, and others might not.

In any case, the study found that the average American had sex about nine times a year less often than in the late 1990s — which is not that bad. “It's hardly a wholesale abandonment of sex, but it is a downturn,” Regnerus says. It’s the reasons for the downturn that are scary. Is “Netflix and chill” a lie?