Millennials aren't getting it on as often as young adults used to. So how can you buck the trend? Reducing your screen time is a good start.
Riverdale. Scandal. Vanderpump Rules. Young people on television are having so much sex, it’s impressive that they have time for anything else.
In real life, people in their 20s and 30s are also having sex—just not as much of it as young adults in previous generations had. It’s part of a larger trend: American adults in all age groups had sex less frequently in the early 2010s than they did a decade ago, to the tune of nine fewer times a year.
But the decrease is particularly prominent among millennials, or those born in the 1980s and 1990s. When Politico analyzed data from the annual General Social Survey (GSS), it found that in the early 2000s, 73% of adults between ages 18 and 30 reported having sex at least twice a month. Between 2014 to 2016, that figure sank to 66%.
Millennials, especially those born in the 1990s, are a lot more likely to report having no sexual partners at all, according to a recent study in the Archives of Sexual Behaviors, which used GSS data. When Gen Xers born between 1965 and 1969 were young adults (defined as between ages 20 and 24), 6% reported having no sexual partners. For those born between 1990 and 1994, that figure rose to 15%.
While these statistics are fairly cut and dry, the reasons behind them are harder to pin down. Name a theory—Smartphones! Shifting gender norms! Young adults living in their parents’ basements!—and it’s been floated by an expert. As with any trend affecting an entire generation, there’s no single root cause. But some potential drivers may be more likely than others.
Millennials are glued to their phones
Psychologist Jean Twenge, who led the study, believes that technology has played a significant role. Twenge is an expert in millennial behavior and the author of iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood. “It used to be there wasn't a lot to do at home at 10 p.m.,” she told Health via email. “Now there are so many entertainment choices, from streaming video to social media.”
In general, singles have less sex than those in steady relationships—and millennials are less likely than previous generations to be coupled up. Technology, particularly dating apps, could be a factor here, Brooke E. Wells, an associate professor at Widener University’s Center for Human Sexuality Studies and a co-author of the study, tells Health.
Searching for romantic partners through a screen “may allow for a bit more detachment from the person on the other end,” which could decrease the drive to meet a potential romantic partner in person. “It may also give people a sense of endless options...when you find a flaw in one person, you can simply swipe on to the next person,” Wells adds.
The sexual slump is even more dramatic for those who live with their spouse or romantic partner. As a group, cohabitators reported having sex 16 fewer times per year in the early 2010s than in the early 2000s. “You have that image a couple in bed at night; they’re both on their phones, on Facebook, or what have you,” says Wells. What they're not doing, however, is getting it on with each other.
Money and career come into play
But technology is just one explanation. Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, PhD, believes millennials are too ambitious and career-oriented to make sex, much less relationships, a priority. “They don’t have time!” she tells Health.
Wells points to other potential factors, including the economic downturn that resulted in young people living with their parents for longer. There's also the crumbling wall that used to separate work from personal life. The last item resonates for her on an immediate level; Wells frequently finds herself responding to emails at 11 p.m., a scenario familiar to many millennials actively climbing the career ladder.
Once again screens and smartphones are culprits here. The inability to every truly disengage, Wells speculates, could put a damper on your sex life. Fielding queries from your boss right before bed isn’t typically an aphrodisiac.
Porn actually dulls your sex drive
As technology’s presence and importance in our daily lives has increased, so too has our exposure to graphic depictions of sex, says Satya Doyle Byock, a Portland, Oregon–based therapist who works exclusively with millennials. “It’s absolutely everywhere,” she says. And thanks to smartphones, it's never been easier to access.
Not only are the portrayals ubiquitous but they tend to cleave to the same narrow tropes: men are domineering, and women are passive objects of desire. Byock has found that many of her clients experience sex and sexual desire through the lens of porn as well as pop culture. “They’re so concerned about how they look and how they are performing that they struggle to enjoy it—to trust it,” Byock says.
Sex has become a political minefield
What’s more, in a wake of the #MeToo movement, concerns about intentions and misreading signals have come to the forefront. This instinct is good, but it can be distancing. “Men are afraid of objectifying women, women are confused by what men want and don’t want.” There’s a lot of analyzing and comparing, which can make sex a stressful activity rather than a pleasurable one.
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So how can you make your sex life better?
Turning your phone off is a good place to start. Cut back on your social media habit; the medium is a warped lens through which to measure other people’s romantic lives. “Remember that everyone on social media is putting their best foot forward, and not showing pictures of watching movies on the couch with their cat," Wells says.
Plus, the more time you spend looking at a screen, answering texts, responding to your manager at work, or otherwise spending all your time on a device, the less likely you are to meet people—potential partners—in real life.
Byock is more direct, advising that millennials stay off social as much as possible. “The data is very clear: Social media is bad for one’s sense of self…it enhances the experience of comparison, of ‘shoulds,’” she believes. Scrolling through your feed and feeling bad because you don't think your life measures up isn't exactly going to put you in the mood. In fact, it'll likely sink your sex drive.