We’re not getting as much as we did 25 years ago.
Despite living in a culture that has evolved to a point where sex is openly discussed and accepted in many forms, Americans are having sex less frequently than they were 25 years ago, according to a Widener University study released Wednesday.
The study lays the decrease on two primary factors: An increasing number of individuals without steady or marital partners; and a decline in sexual frequency among those with partners.
“These data speak to the shifting nature of sex and relationships and provide further evidence that young adults today are not hooking up as often as media representations would lead us to believe,” said Associate Professor Brooke Wells of the Center for Human Sexuality Studies at Widener. The center houses one of the only doctoral programs in human sexuality studies at a fully accredited university in the United States.
Wells worked in coordination with Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University and Ryne A. Sherman of Florida Atlantic University in analyzing data from the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey of more than 30,000 U.S. adults that gathered information about how often people have sex. They published their findings Wednesday in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. It marked the fourth sex-related study they have published together since 2015.
Fewer Americans are in partnerships now than in the recent past, the study points out. Those between the ages of 18 and 29 who are not living with a partner has increased from 48 percent in 2005 to 64 percent in 2014.
“While previous research has consistently indicated that partnered people have sex more frequently than single people, the partnership advantage seems to be shrinking,” Wells said.
In addition, the study shows average American adults had sex about 64 times a year in 2002, but the activity had dropped to 53 times a year by 2014. It revealed sexual frequency declined among people who are married or living together, but stayed steady among those without partners. The decline was largest among white people, married people, those in their 50s, those with a college degree, those with children between ages 6 and 12 at home, and those who had not seen a pornographic movie in the last year. The largest declines were among the highly educated and those who are married or living together.
“Surprisingly, work hours did not explain the decline,” Wells said. “In fact, those who worked more hours actually reported more frequent sex. However, the study did not examine time spent connected to work outside of work hours, or screen time, both of which may negatively impact sexual frequency.”
Finally, the study found the decline was not linked to increased pornography use, and age had a strong effect on sexual frequency. For example, Americans in their 20s had sex an average of about 80 times per year, compared to about 20 times per year for those in their 60s.
The findings come at a time in American culture when people are much more likely to approve of premarital sex and sex between two same-sex adults – findings from 2015 and 2016 studies Wells published with Twenge and Sherman. They also come as young people are regularly accessing sexual information online, and pornography use has become more commonplace and accepted, according to the study.
Wells said the study is important as it promotes increased understanding of temporal and generational changes in sexual behavior and relationships, and it can help inform educational and therapeutic efforts to address a range of sexual behaviors and associated factors, such as happiness and relationship satisfaction.