Where has all the sex gone?

The number of Americans who approve of sex between unmarried adults is at an all time high. The HIV virus is at an all time low. Birth control is readily available; the morning after pill doesn’t require a prescription.

Hook up sex is a computer click away on Tinder, Grindr, and dozens of others.

So physical sex among teenagers and young adults should be on the rise.

In fact, it’s declining.

According to the results of an extensive study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior and data from dozens of recent articles, Millennials in their 20’s and 30’s along with teenage Generation Z are having sex less often than their parents and grandparents did when they were young.

The trend, while particularly prominent in the U.S., can be found in studies worldwide, including Great Britain, Finland, Sweden, Holland, Japan, and Australia.


According to the survey in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, almost half of twenty-somethings have not had sex at all in the last year; one in three 20-somethings have never had sex.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey finds that the percentage of high-school students who’d had intercourse dropped from 54 to 40 percent during the last five years.

For a quarter century, fewer people have been marrying, and those who do have been marrying later. The share of people living together hasn’t risen enough to offset the decline in marriage.

What’s behind this strengthening trend?

In a new survey of just over 2,000 people for the BBC, 45 percent of adults said they had experienced negative impact on their sex life due to stress; 32 percent of people said their physical health was a factor; while 26 percent named mental health issues as the cause.

Meanwhile, sex doll brothels have opened in Paris, Barcelona, Turin, Moscow, and Toronto.

A British Millennial journalist writing about this subject had an interesting take.

“The truth, for many of us, is that we’re simply stressed out and at our wits’ end, with a million things on our minds that could be interfering with our libidos. We’re worried about finding a stable job, our university loan debt, moving out of our parents’ homes and more.”

This statement sums up as well as any other the reason for less sex. Rates of anxiety and depression have been rising among Americans and young adults worldwide for decades now, and since the year 2000, particularly among teens and those in their early to mid-20s many saddled with college debt and a loss of faith in the economy and job market going forward.

Anxiety suppresses desire for most people. And, in a particularly unfortunate catch 22, both depression and the antidepressants used to treat it often suppress physical desire.

The emergence of hook up culture has not increased sexual activity overall. The prospect of casual sex within the hour is available on sites like Tinder, but the latest data show that while the average user spends over an hour a day on the site, most don’t actually hook up. And ones that do are often dissatisfied.

The significant drop in teens going out on dates coincides with another key trend—lack of free time. Millions of high schoolers have scheduled supervised activities from the time they wake up right through dinner. In his book, “Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials,” author Malcolm Harris identifies the trend in the decline of unsupervised free time probably contributes significantly to the decline in physical intimacy.

This lack of unsupervised free time extends to the workplace where stress and anxiety continue to rise even in more “laid back” cultures such as Sweden. There a local councilman has proposed that his municipality’s 550 employees be given paid time off to have sex. “There are studies that show sex is healthy he told an interviewer, adding that couples in Sweden weren’t spending enough time together.”


Generation Z, those born between 1996 and 2010, will comprise 32 percent of the global population’s 7.7 billion in 2019, surpassing Millennials, who will count for 31.5 percent.

This is the first generation whose connection to the world around them is principally defined by that small device they hold in their hand… the smart phone.

Hiding in their devices is a good way to escape the uncertain world around them and to train themselves into thinking intimacy and human connection are not critical dynamics in their lives.

Indeed, studies worldwide have shown that for many teens, their smartphone “is the most important thing in their life (Nottingham Trent University study).”

This is also the first generation raised in the War on Terror and Panic of ’08 eras. Fear – fear of no money coming in, fear of a terrorist attack, fear that the institutions that bind their world will crumble before them – defines this generation.

Communication through texting, Instagramming and other social media in a smartphone is safe and something they can control. In contrast, meeting and talking with people can be messy and stressful. So why bother?

A spring 2018 study by the independent, nonprofit Common Sense Media found that 35 percent of teens would rather text than talk face-to-face; the option of face time only garnered 32 percent.

Overall, more than two-thirds of Zers surveyed preferred remote communications of some kind – texting, e-mailing, social media, even old-fashioned phone calls – to meeting in person.

More than half of the respondents said that they take time away from people they’re with to use social media; 40 percent said their dedication to social media cuts into time they might otherwise spend with friends.


In Pew focus groups, teens admitted relying on texting to avoid difficult or confrontational conversations. And that includes having face-to-face, eye-to-eye conversations about feelings, emotions and sharing intimate thoughts and expressions.

Beyond how these characteristics are leading to less sex, this social awkwardness can lead to isolation – one factor behind increases in teen depression (up 33 percent) and suicide attempts (up 23 percent) from 2010 to 2015.

A study done by researchers at San Diego State University found that the increase was consistent across races, regions, and economic classes. The researchers traced these appalling numbers to the rise of smartphones and social media in the hands of teens.

Social human interaction will decrease with the post-Gen Z generation. Today’s toddlers are already addicted to the Internet of Things. Go to any public setting and observe toddlers and their parents… all glued to their handhelds.


Some observers see positive signs in the trend of younger generations having less sex. For example, many of the young adults surveyed over the past few years point to the importance of friendship over a need to find a mate and have kids.

They are challenging the mind set of older generations that to be a complete, successful person one has to be in a couple relationship (most of which fail), have regular sex, have kids, and support a family whether you enjoy your work or not.

As a corollary to this, many of the young people interviewed in recent sex studies are aware that more sex doesn’t necessarily equal better sex. Young women are feeling much more empowered than women their age of past generations are saying ‘No,’ not necessarily to sex overall, but to unsatisfying sex. TJ  


“Generation Z, Generation Zero” is one of our Top Trends for 2019. In making this forecast, we stated that what will define this generation is its over reliance on digital communication, missing opportunities for self-expression, creative thinking and collaborative endeavors that emerge from human dynamics and interaction.

The declining rates of sexual intimacy is a byproduct of this generation’s obsession and reliance on digital communication. We forecast this trend only strengthens and that the alarming rates of anxiety, depression, and stress felt by younger generations today will accelerate, as will their lack of interest in sex.

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