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The Results Are In, We’re Having Less Sex Than Ever

Official surveys from the U.S and U.K have declared that general trends are pointing to most people having less sex than ever before, and it’s not because of the pandemic....
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Official surveys from the U.S and U.K have declared that general trends are pointing to most people having less sex than ever before, and it’s not because of the pandemic.

We simply aren’t having as much sex as we used to. At least that’s according to the U.K’s National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL) whose research has shown that people are having sex less every month.

In 1991, the average was about five times per month. 2001 saw a drop to four times a month and by 2012 it was at just three times a month. Unfortunately, the most recent survey was postponed due to Covid-19 but there are hopes that they will finish the study in 2022-23.

You might think that this is just limited to the U.K. but no, this trend has been echoed all over the world.

Soazig Clifton, academic director for NATSAL at University College London, told Science Focus that “If you look around the world, other comparable studies show a decrease as well. So, it seems to be a real international trend.”

A similar study in the U.S. from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behaviour (NSSHB) compared over 8,500 individuals from 2009 to 2018 and they found very similar results.

The Results

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Both surveys split the findings between adolescents and adults. The findings ascertained that both groups are having way less sex. But it’s the teens who are doing it less, at least the straight ones anyway. U.S. researchers in 2009 found that 79% of teens between 14-17 said that they hadn’t had sex in the past year. Almost a decade later that number had jumped to 89%.

When asked why, Clifton says that these are just observational studies and they “can’t easily answer the ‘why’ questions.”

She did hazard a guess and give several reasons as to why this might be the case.

“It is certainly theoretically plausible that people are spending so much time on their iPads and phones, connecting with others virtually rather than having sex with the person next to them.”

But that seems too easy. It’s also possible that maybe we are just lying less about sex as we are more comfortable discussing sex. As Clifton states, “Maybe people are more able to tell us that they’re not having sex. There is some statistical work we’ve done that shows we have a bit less reporting bias in our data. These decreases in biases would go along with the increased, more nuanced public conversation about sex.”

But again, Clifton says that this doesn’t tell the whole story but only explains one part.

Are We Too Busy?

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NATSAL has done a smaller qualitative study that has suggested that we might be simply too busy. As Clifton said, “The researchers worked with middle-aged women. And something that came up in that research was that women were too tired for sex. They had so much else going on in their life.”

So then the next question was, “Are people having sex more during lockdown when there is less going on?” The answer was interesting, “We looked at the first lockdown, which was particularly restrictive, and the impact on sex lives was really different for different groups of people.”

According to NATSAL, people living with a partner had sex about the same amount.

“In fact, most people didn’t report a change in their satisfaction with their sex lives. Some people say to me, ‘everyone will be having more sex because they were locked in a house together.’ It’s just not the case. However, we were more likely to see a decline in frequency and satisfaction amongst people not living with partners, and amongst young people.”

What Does This All Mean?

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Clifton reckons that it’s “part of the picture of understanding society, along with other areas of health and behaviours in our population. Sometimes [sexual activity] gets dismissed as being less important than other aspects of people’s lives. For some people, it’s a really important part of their life.”

These studies are incredibly important for countries that have issues like declining birth rates which, for obvious reasons, would shed light on why such a thing is occurring. Is the general population being too overworked for sex? Are modern wants and needs simply shifting? These are the kinds of questions these studies can help answer.

All is not lost, however, as Clifton states that most participants who reported no sex in the last year weren’t actually dissatisfied with their sex lives. For couples, Clifton reckons that there is evidence to suggest that quality over quantity is what’s important. In other words, “We don’t need to be worries about whether our relationship is going to fall apart [because of it].”


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