Pa­tri­cia Casey

No sex, please – we’re mil­len­ni­als. The tide goes out on ‘60s rev­o­lu­tion

Irish Independent - - The Week - Pa­tri­cia Casey

AC­CORD­ING to an ar­ti­cle in ‘The At­lantic’ by Kate Ju­lian last month, there is a rev­o­lu­tion in sex­ual ac­tiv­ity in the US – and it’s not just there, but across the West­ern world too. In her piece, ‘The Sex Re­ces­sion’, she points out that young, and not so young, men and women are fore­go­ing sex­ual in­ter­course.

On the face of it, this should be a boom time for sex, since con­tra­cep­tives are avail­able ex­ten­sively and if these fail, so too is abor­tion.

Hook-ups are con­tin­u­ously in­vited on­line (I’ve had three pop-ups while writ­ing this para­graph, from Il­liana, who likes me) and ev­ery kind of taste can be catered for al­most in­stantly by down­load­ing Grindr or Tin­der.

Polyamory is a house­hold word, sex­ting no longer raises an eye­brow, tw­erk­ing is a show­piece for stage and three­somes are de rigueur. In this coun­try, the Union of Stu­dents in Ire­land placed a list of hints on its web­site about this, as if it was the ac­cept­able norm.

The wor­ried con­ser­va­tive el­ders of yes­ter­year pre­dicted chaos in fam­ily life if the per­mis­sive trend con­tin­ued, with bro­ken mar­riages, chil­dren aban­doned with­out fa­thers, rock­et­ing sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases and as­so­ci­ated in­fer­til­ity and un­tram­melled abor­tion.

On the other side of the di­vide, lib­er­als be­lieved sex­ual nir­vana would be reached when the sex­ual act and pro­cre­ation were un­cou­pled.

Sex­ual ful­fil­ment would in­evitably fol­low and re­la­tion­ships be­tween the sexes would be egal­i­tar­ian once the pa­tri­archy was jet­ti­soned.

Both were wrong, ac­cord­ing to Ju­lian. The sex re­ces­sion has de­scended upon Amer­ica.

From 1991 to 2017, the Cen­tres for Dis­ease Control and Preven­tion’s youth risk be­hav­iour sur­vey found the per­cent­age of high-school stu- dents who had in­ter­course dropped from 54 to 40. So in the course of a gen­er­a­tion, sex­ual ac­tiv­ity changed from some­thing that most teens en­gaged in to one that most didn’t.

Sim­i­larly, the Gen­eral So­cial Sur­vey of 2016 re­ported a de­cline in sex­ual ac­tiv­ity among adults in gen­eral; even since 2016 it ap­pears to have fur­ther ac­cel­er­ated ac­cord­ing to Jean Twenge, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at San Diego State Univer­sity.

These stud­ies show young adults in their twen­ties are hav­ing sex less fre­quently and are more likely to be celi­bate than Boomers or Gen­er­a­tion X. They are likely to have fewer life­time sex­ual partners.

The teenage preg­nancy rate has also de­clined sharply and the abor­tion rate in the US is at its low­est since Roe v Wade (1972), which led to the fed­eral lib­er­al­i­sa­tion of abor­tion.

And it is not just in the US this is hap­pen­ing, al­though it is more pro­nounced there. Other coun­ties are re­port­ing sim­i­lar trends in­clud­ing Bri­tain’s Na­tional Sur­vey of Sex­ual At­ti­tudes and Life­styles, Fin­land’s Fin­sex study and data from the Nether­lands and Swe­den.

Ja­pan poses the big­gest de­mo­graphic cri­sis. In 2005, a third of Ja­panese sin­gle peo­ple aged be­tween 18 and 34 were vir­gins; by 2015, 43pc were, and the share who said they did not in­tend to get mar­ried had risen. Among the mar­ried pop­u­la­tion, 47pc had not had sex in at least a month.

So­cial me­dia may in­hibit per­sonal growth and skills to form close re­la­tion­ships

The ob­vi­ous ques­tion is – why? Are young peo­ple more vir­tu­ous and ab­stain­ing for moral rea­sons; are they more fo­cused on their stud­ies than on finding sex­ual and ro­man­tic partners; are they im­pressed that a life of sex­ual ex­ploita­tion is one of empti­ness; does porn pro­vide a bet­ter and less de­mand­ing out?

The an­swer is elu­sive but there are a num­ber of rea­sons that have been sug­gested. The ob­vi­ous one is the near ubiq­ui­tous avail­abil­ity of porn, which can sat­isfy the ba­sic sex­ual needs of those who view it. Whether it is ad­dic­tive or not is a ques­tion not yet set­tled but it is used by many peo­ple in­stead of per­son-to-per­son sex.

An­other pos­si­bil­ity is that the use of so­cial me­dia is so time con­sum­ing it in­trudes upon time avail­able for sex­ual pur­suits.

Some ev­i­dence of this comes from a study in the ‘Jour­nal of Pop­u­la­tion Eco­nomics’ that ex­am­ined the in­tro­duc­tion of broad­band in­ter­net in the US on a county-by-county ba­sis and found its ar­rival ex­plained 7pc to 13pc of the teen-birth-rate de­cline from 1999 to 2007.

More­over, the in­ces­sant use of so­cial me­dia may in­hibit per­sonal growth and de­vel­op­ing the skills to form close re­la­tion­ships.

It may also be that women feel more em­pow­ered to say “no” to un­wanted sex, as the ag­gres­sion of fem­i­nism

has grown, with “toxic mas­culin­ity” tar­geted as never be­fore.

These ques­tions are of more than jour­nal­is­tic in­ter­est, since they may have im­pli­ca­tion for be­hav­iour in other coun­tries.

If the Sum­mer of Love was the begin­ning of a cul­tural change that swept all be­fore it for four decades, then a Sex­ual Re­ces­sion, the­o­ret­i­cally, could do the same. If re­la­tion­ships are not formed, then pop­u­la­tions will dwin­dle and economies will suf­fer.

The 1960s was feared for what it might and did bring in the sphere of re­la­tion­ships and sex­u­al­ity. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the up­shot of this was sex­ual con­ti­nence spreading across the lib­er­ated West for rea­sons we might not wish?

Ul­ti­mately, the trend may be part of the cy­cle of be­hav­iour, a pen­du­lum swing­ing in a par­tic­u­lar di­rec­tion, prompted by re­cently emerg­ing so­cial habits. Per­haps we are wit­ness­ing what Shake­speare ob­served: “There is a tide in the af­fairs of men.”

The sex re­ces­sion: Be­tween 1991 and 2007, the per­cent­age of high-school stu­dents who had sex­ual in­ter­course fell from 54 to 40.

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