Sex is pretty good, isn’t it? Not just because it is useful for making babies, but also recreationally. It makes you happy. In a lot of ways, it keeps you sane, makes you feel excellent about yourself and reinforces your love of others.
So, it might come as a bit of a shock that, statistically, young people are doing a lot less of it.
Various studies have shown that we’re having less sex than previous generations.
The results of University College London’s recent National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles suggested that the frequency with which 16- to 44-year-olds are “mingling limbs” has been steadily decreasing over the past two decades. It found that women were having sex an average of 4.8 times a month and men, 4.9. Ten years ago this was 6.3 and 6.2, and 10 years before that, 6.1 and 6.4.
Where have these lust-filled liaisons disappeared to? It doesn’t make sense if you think about the cultural attitudes of our time. After the Motion Picture Association of America introduced its new content rating system in 1990, producers went down the “sex sells” route and included more and more sex scenes in their films to bump up the rating. We’ve been inundated with footage of actors writhing around, baring buttocks and moaning with abandon ever since.
However, in the last five years, things have drastically changed; films such as Nymphomaniac and Shame and television shows like Girls and This Is England have endeavoured to tell certain (often ugly) truths about sexual behaviour. No longer are we subject to the gentle facial caressing and “barely any movement and yet explosive orgasm” sex of the 1990s (9½ Weeks – I’m looking at you). Instead we’re faced with open discussions of sexuality, LGBT relationships, intimacy issues, fantasies, fetishes and role reversals – all portrayed without judgment.
If we’re surrounded by sex in the media, and the overwhelming message is one of acceptance and “anything goes”, why are we eschewing it in real life? Cath Mercer, a senior lecturer in UCL’s Centre for Sexual Health & HIV, and lead author of the study, suggested that technology might have something to do with it, explaining that increased portable online connectivity could be behind the platonic patterns. It’s not as simple as getting into bed, turning the lights out, and getting it on. These days, there’s always something better to do – checking your emails, going through your sister’s holiday photo album on Facebook or even reading a sex feature on the Guardian’s website …
Put two people who are attracted to each other in an empty room for an extended period and they will probably end up rolling around on the floor in an amorous embrace. Add a couple of iPhones and Wi-Fi, and you’re more likely to witness them comparing their Instagram accounts. It’s easier, more comfortable, and – socially, emotionally and literally – less messy. Technology is simultaneously bringing people together, and forcing them apart: the ultimate cleaver.
One of my ex-boyfriends would, as standard, roll over and check his BlackBerry as his first post-coital act. After a while, I started to do the same. There was an unanswered question: what have I missed? It became a serious issue, something we subconsciously asked beforehand – what would we miss if we had sex now? Is there time for this? Would it be more convenient later?
Surely it’s this analytical, overthought and overwrought sexual attitude that is to blame for our loss of libido. Tech is a significant part of that, but you can also see it in newspaper articles, on television, on the front covers of magazines and running through the veins of our culture. Sex is an animalistic and primal activity. Our brain may be the biggest erogenous zone, but the basic ins and outs of the process just come down to our body wanting something.
Intellectualising bodily functions can be a quasi-dangerous activity. Rather than enjoying the process of getting it on with another human being, it becomes all too easy to find yourself asking questions that don’t have useful answers: Why did you want me from behind? Do you prefer my eyes to be closed or open? How come you find sex in the morning so much more fulfilling than sex at night? There’s a drive to psychoanalyse sexual behaviour without any real need to. Ultimately – does it matter? Or are you just making it matter?
Several of my friends have recently opened up about their sexual anxieties. From serious intimacy issues to a desire to flirt or fumble with everyone apart from their other half – the overwhelming and overarching thing that tied them all together was that they all had sexual anxiety.
It turns out that many of the people I know are thinking about sex a lot. However, they come home from work, watch TV, scroll through Twitter and, if sex does occur, it is usually the last thing to happen in the day, almost as an afterthought. For us single folk, it’s just as dire: we endure moments of physicality bursting from stretches of celibacy. It’s no wonder that 25- to 35-year-olds were collectively the lowest-scoring age group for monthly fornications – we’re all either ignoring our partners or desperately seeking one.
Who would want to have sex when it’s associated with a world of neurosis? When you know that every aspect of it will be analysed? It makes sense that we’re burying ourselves deeper in our virtual connections to another person, rather than reaching out and touching them.
Before you start weeping into your self-inflicted chastity belt, there is a simple cure. We can’t get rid of technology and we can’t close our eyes to the incessant coverage of sex in the media. We can, however, stop letting it affect us. Why are you reading this sex-drenched article? Cease this immediately and go out and find yourself some nookie. Don’t think, just act. Chances are, you really need it.