Data doesn’t tell the whole story.
Over the last few years, there’s been hand-wringing over (young) people not having sex anymore. The latest came on Valentine’s Day when CNN declared Americans are “less likely to have sex…than ever.”
Twenty-six percent of American adults didn’t have sex at all in 2021, according to the latest General Social Survey (GSS), a nationally representative survey of American adults released most years since 1972. While COVID certainly didn’t help matters of physical touch, the trend is in line with pre-pandemic levels. In 2016 and 2018, the last two times the survey was conducted, 23 percent of people reported not having sex at all.
Are we really having less sex than ever? It’s impossible to tell in a few data points. If you find yourself in the sexless category and want to climb out of it, though, there are ways to do so.
Consider the data
As always when looking at survey numbers, be mindful that even a nationally representative sample won’t illustrate what each and every person is going through. When looking at the actual breakdown of the 2021 GSS data, for example, the hard number of people telling GSS they haven’t had sex in the last 12 months is 633 out of 4,032. In fact, 46 percent of participants (1,875) either didn’t have an applicable answer, said they didn’t know, or plain didn’t answer that question.
That doesn’t mean we should disregard these findings entirely, though. The GSS is far from the only survey to suggest people, particularly Millennials and Gen Z, are having less sex.
One statistic doesn’t tell the whole story, however, and also doesn’t dive into the reasons behind it.
Why are we having less sex?
Sex educator and author of Beyond Satisfied: A Sex Hacker’s Guide to Endless Orgasms, Mind-Blowing Connection, and Lasting Confidence Kenneth Play suspects that as our online lives become richer, our ability to connect IRL diminishes. “This trend has already been catapulting with every new device and dating app,” he told TechSkylight. “Coupled with pandemic lockdown, we now have a recipe for loneliness and disconnection.”
Prior to his current career, Play was a personal trainer. He discovered that he wasn’t competing with other fitness businesses; he competed with the entertainment industry. It’s much easier, for instance, to binge Netflix than to drag yourself to a gym.
“We have too many options that compete for our attention in this hyper-convenient society,” he said. “It makes the social connection more of a chore than ever before.”
Combine our hyper-convenient society with the stressors of a pandemic and the busyness of modern life, and it makes sense that we’re having less sex.
Still, people may desire sex even if they’re not having it. According to the dating site eharmony’s latest Happiness Index, a nationally representative survey of 3,000 people, 41 percent of singles reported that their libido is higher now than pre-pandemic.
Play, a “sex hacker” who coaches clients on how to improve sex and intimacy, said he’s getting more requests than ever for help in the bedroom.
Stephen Quaderer, the creator of the inclusive app for people who love oral pleasure Headero, said the influx of 20,000 users on the app since July 202 is a counterpoint to these statistics.
“Within the Headero community we’re seeing a very different picture than the broader societal trend,” said Quaderer. “People are coming to Headero to seek out sexual exploration and experimentation – and based on the feedback that we’ve received, they’re finding it.”
Quaderer believes Headero’s growth and the sexless trends actually have something in common. The reason the app is growing is that it’s a safe space for people to be honest with their intentions and desires while grounding in safety and consent, he said. Meanwhile, in broader society, sex is increasingly framed from the perspective of stigma, so people don’t interrogate or act on their desires.
This is certainly true of social media companies, which are our current communication hubs. Tech giants are increasingly prudish due to legislation like FOSTA-SESTA, which set out to curb sex trafficking but in reality, is just pushing sex workers — and discussions of sex — to the margins.
As University of Toronto pornography platform Ph.D. student Maggie MacDonald told TechSkylight, sexuality is just one social element that we like to connect with others about. On our main methods of digital communication, however, we’re not allowed to express this side of ourselves. This stifling of online sexual content — combined with a concerning lack of sexual education in schools — can bleed into our sex lives because if we’re not talking about it on the internet then we may not be talking about it at all. Porn, which is stylized entertainment, becomes the de facto rulebook to sex.
Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok don’t allow sexual content. While Twitter does, some users (like sex workers) claim they’re shadowbanned (when one’s account remains up but their content is blocked from others seeing it).
Sexuality is policed online by both the U.S. government and by the platforms themselves. But what if you want to have more IRL intimacy and don’t know where to start?
How to have more sex
While we alone can’t solve the erasure of sexuality online — or the pandemic, or the hamster wheel of late-stage capitalism — there are small, actionable steps individuals can take to have more sex,
Play’s first suggestion is to schedule it. “I know, it sounds kind of lame,” he said, “but one of the key findings in sex research is that responsive desire produces far greater results in getting people in the mood.” Responsive desire is getting horny after external stimulation, like someone touching you. Spontaneous desire is getting horny with or without stimulation…in other words, spontaneously.
Transitioning from a stressful day to a sensual partner session can be challenging, Play acknowledged. He suggested creating a transition ritual to get in an erotic headspace. An easy sex hack? Take a sensual shower with your partner.
“The goal is to caress each other’s bodies slowly and focus on the awakening sensations in your body,” Play said. “As a bonus, you also get clean and smell great for all the dirty fun ahead!”
Quaderer advises folks to educate themselves beyond “the birds and the bees.” Read about communication, and of course consent and safety. Learning more about sex won’t just make you a more understanding and empathetic lover, but will also ground your own value system about sex, said Quaderer.
Questions to ask yourself are: What matters to you? What conditions must be met before sex? What boundaries cannot be crossed?
“Sex is complex, and it can be confusing,” Quaderer said, “so having a firm set of personal sexual values can help you navigate that complexity as it arises.” Knowing what you value out of sex can help you determine if a partner is right for you, and what desires you want to explore.
Once you have firm boundaries and desires, you can seek out communities of like-minded people. Quaderer suggested his own app, Headero, and there are others out there like sexual exploration app Feeld and polyamorous community app Bloom.
The sex data is bleak, but it’s not a life sentence. If we carve out time to be with our partner — or ourselves — and determine our sexual values, we can bunk the trend.