Sex recessions and the generational divide, examined.
As if they haven’t had enough trouble with literal economic turbulence in the past 15 years, young adults are experiencing yet another recession: a sex recession, as The Atlantic put it in 2018.
According to the research of Jean M. Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, young adults in their 20s are two and a half times more likely to be abstinent than members of Gen X were at their age, and that’s not all: The Atlantic further reported that young adults are expected to have fewer sexual partners than preceding generations. Another study published this year found that the average number of young adults having casual sex dropped 14% between 2007 and 2017—which means members of Gen Z and some millennials are getting it on way less than older millennials and members of Gen X did at their age. But it might not totally be a generational thing.
According to a report by the American Psychological Association published in 2017, Americans as a whole are having less sex than they did two decades ago, with the average (between the years 2010 to 2014) at 54 times a year versus 60 times a year, from the year 1989 to 1994. Marriage rates have also decreased in this time by 8%—which the APA posits could be an explanation for decreased sex. Millennials, according to this data, have sex on average six times fewer than members of the Silent Generation (at least, controlled for age and time, which is to say that those born in the 1930s had more sex than Millennials when they were the age of current Millennials). This older generation seems to have kept up the habit: The frequency at which adults over the age of 70 have sex went up when compared to previous generations, though just by a little.
When the data isn’t controlled for age and time, though, it is young people currently having the most sex, according to data from the Kinsey Institute, as reported by Time Out in 2017. Those between the ages of 18 and 29 have the most sex, at 112 times a year (or about twice a week). Those between 30 and 39 report an average of 86 times a year and between 40 and 49, 69 times a year. This data set doesn’t report any higher—but we know that people over the age of 50 certainly have active sex lives. One 2015 study found that about a third of both sexually active men and women in their 70s had sex at least twice a month, and for those in their 80s, that stayed true for 19% of men and 32% of women.
For all of these numbers, there are differences between married couples and singles: Generally, you can expect married couples to have sex at a greater frequency than non-married couples or singles, especially unmarried couples who don’t yet live together. It’s hard to say whether this trend will continue though, as more long-term couples choose to live together without getting married. After all, it’s not like a ring or a piece of paperwork is the main factor in one’s sex life.
So, it seems like the so-called “sex recession” is relative, and it takes a pretty black and white approach to what intimacy looks like. It’s also important to note that all this data comes from a pre-pandemic world—casual sex almost certainly decreased over the past few years, but at the onset of what’s sure to be one horny, vaccinated summer for many, an uptick seems more than likely. It could very well be time for a generational shift.