Young Americans Having Less Sex, Likely Due to Stress & Trend of Taking Longer to Grow Up

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Young Americans are having less sex, according to a new study, likely due to the stress of modern life, easy access to online entertainment and a trend among adolescents and young adults of taking longer to grow up.

The study by San Diego State University researchers examined levels of sexual activity among young Americans between 2000 and 2018, ruling out social distancing from the coronavrius pandemic as a factor.

Published Friday in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, the study examined responses to a survey by more than 4,000 men and 5,000 women on the issue of sexual frequency and number of sexual partners.

It noted an increase in sexual inactivity during the study period among men aged 18 to 34, and women aged 25 to 34, with the increase among men mainly occurring among unmarried individuals.

"First, adolescents and young adults are taking longer to grow to adulthood. This includes the postponement of not just sexual activity but also other activities related to mating and reproduction, including dating, living with a partner, pregnancy, and birth," said Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, in a commentary on the report.

"However, these reproductive trends have not occurred in isolation; instead, they are part of a broader cultural trend toward delayed development. For example, adolescents in the 2010s were also less likely to drive, drink alcohol, go out without their parents, and work at paid jobs compared with adolescents in previous decades."

Twenge added: "It is more difficult to go out and engage in sexual activities when you are not financially independent of the parents." 

The study, authored by Peter Ueda, Catherine H. Mercer, and Cyrus Ghaznavi, also noted sexual inactivity was more common among men with lower income and without full-time employment, as well as among men and women who were students.

Researchers found the percentage of sexually inactive 18- to 24-year-old men increased from 18.9% between 2000 and 2002 to 30.9% between 2016 and 2018. The survey also found that approximately one-third of men in the 18- to 24-year-old group reported no sexual activity in the previous year.

For women, the study found sexual inactivity may also be associated with a greater prevalence of "hooking up" or casual sexual encounters, which the study said "has generally been reported to be less pleasurable for women." It also noted "potential increases in sexual aggression directed toward women."

Researchers found, however, that growing up slowly did not explain a decrease in sexual activity among older and married adults, also a feature in previous studies. They suggested that might be affected by the growth of the internet and digital media.

"Between the 24-hour availability of entertainment and the temptation to use smartphones and social media, sexual activity may not be as attractive as it once was," Twenge wrote. "Put simply, there are now many more choices of things to do in the late evening than there once were and fewer opportunities to initiate sexual activity if both partners are engrossed in social media, electronic gaming, or binge-watching."

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