The number of Americans not having sex has reached a record high. Similar declines in sexual activity have been documented in Britain and Japan. Young men are driving this recession—whether willingly or not. In the US, fewer young men than women reported having sex in 2018. In Japan, many herbivore men seem to be avoiding sex altogether. People in sexually liberated, first world countries have lost interest in sex and it is men who are driving the trend. So what is really causing the sex recession and is there cause for alarm?
The Role of Free Pornography
Back in the pre-Internet days, men would buy dirty magazines or rent pornographic movies. Nowadays, the Internet allows easy access to free pornography. Some argue that many men are not motivated to approach women, since porn already covers their sexual needs, and that men prefer masturbation over the effort required to approach women. However, while porn addiction can be a real problem, the evidence that porn is driving the sex recession is weak. Studies suggest that people who watch more porn also have sex more often.
Social media was supposed to make communication easier, but some believe that it has had the opposite effect, making us more isolated than ever. Social media usage has been linked to increased loneliness and people who grew up using social media a lot may have worse social skills than those who focused on face-to-face relationships. For example, this study found that children who spent some days away from screens showed improved understanding of emotional cues, compared to a control group. Social media and Internet use may hinder the development of in-person relationships and this may have in turn led to a decline in sex.
Young people are struggling with unemployment and debt. Many live with their parents until their 30s. If they cannot afford to live alone, how can they have sex? If they’re struggling with student debts, how can they perform well in the dating world?
If you still live your parents, you’re probably less willing to invite a partner to spend the night at your house. However, this doesn’t explain why countries like Greece, Brazil and Mexico are very sexually active. If a better economy were linked to greater sexual activity, Greece, with its economic troubles, would be among the least sexually active countries. Research suggests the opposite. Several countries that face economic difficulties are among the most sexually active. The sex recession is more prevalent in wealthy countries like Japan, Australia, the US and the UK.
It is often argued that many working-class men have become unmarriageable because of job instability and because women tend to be better educated than them. According to this argument, many women refuse to date people who make less money than they do and many men refuse to date women whom they feel to be superior. According to one study, rich women prefer men with similar incomes to their own, while rich men are less likely to care about the income of those they date, focusing instead on physical appearance. Women are also more likely than men to say they want a spouse with a steady job. Many men seem unwilling to date women with successful careers.
These trends create a class of unmarriageable men, who, even if they get married, are more likely to divorce than those from wealthier backgrounds. Since some evidence suggests that married people have sex more often than the unmarried, marriage instability may be contributing to the sex recession. Working class men may also be considered less desirable sexual partners in general, which could explain why fewer men than women report having sex in the US. Some evidence suggests that men with high social status are more desirable to women. A study from 2014 found that men pictured in a luxury apartment were rated as more attractive than those in a control group. Another study found that men with luxury cars were perceived as more attractive than those without them.
Men Are Afraid to Approach Women
Some argue that #MeToo and other anti-sexual harassment campaigns discourage men from approaching women. Socially awkward men have trouble understanding the difference between being flirty and being creepy, so they don’t approach women at all. The sex recession started years before the #MeToo movement. However, many men are reluctant to approach women. Many young men genuinely struggle with social interactions—and the prevalence of social media might be making things worse. There is very little guidance for socially awkward men, who want to become more successful in the dating world. Politically correct advice like just be yourself or appearances don’t matter is not particularly helpful to them.
Is the Decline in Sexual Activity a Problem?
According to some, there is no reason for concern. Maybe millennials just have higher standards. Maybe sex is just not important to people anymore. On the other hand, many experts believe that sex can make people happier and reduce their anxiety. According to various studies, people who have more sex report a better quality of life. The decline in sex may be linked to the rising rates of depression among millennials and among Americans in general. Similar trends have been documented in the UK.
A class of sexless, single men may not be good for society. Jordan Peterson advocates culturally enforced monogamy. For Peterson, the increasing number of incels could prove disastrous for society, since male celibacy has been linked to increased criminal activity. Many disagree with Peterson’s idea that societal pressures should limit the sexual choices of women. However, multiple mass murders have already been linked to the incel ideology and even ISIS appears to have used the promise of marriage to recruit sexually frustrated men.
This sociological phenomenon requires further research. There are many reasons for concern. A decline in sex could mean a decline in social contact. And our social relations humanizes us. They are vital to our well-being.