For all the public discussion about sexuality today in pop culture and on the cover of grocery store fashion magazines, it appears that America might actually be more talk than action. A very careful and thorough analysis of research over the last ten years has just been published by the Institute for Family Studies and they conclude Americans are having much less sex than most would assume. And this trend seems to be increasing. But whether this trend will remain seems to be the question.

It has been well documented, here, here, and here, that sexual activity has been on the decline for both young and older Americans. This has curiously been especially true among young adults. And explaining the decline has proven tricky.

Nicholas Wolfinger, the author of this analysis and a professor of sociology at the University of Utah, explains “we may be trending towards more widespread sexlessness, but it’s really too soon to tell whether the upticks of the past few years represent a sustained trend.” But it certainly appears as if that trend is moving in the clear direction of declining sex, particularly in the past few years according to the highly acclaimed National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG).

The trend appears to be a tad sharper of late for women more so than men. The trend is similar for young adults and this is particularly troubling given natural psycho-sexual development and energy of youth. We do not want our young, unmarried adults engaging in sexual activity, but what does it mean when they seem to have lost interest?

Less than 1% of couples in married and cohabiting situations report being sexually inactive in the last year and sex among live-in couples is increasing modestly.

Professor Wolfinger explains the best available data “shows a big decline, from 40% to 32%, in the number of young adults in live-in relationships.” Most sexlessness is taking place outside of long-term relationships.

Wolfinger tells us that “one out of four single American women hasn’t had a sex partner for two or more years, while over one in ten hasn’t had a partner for five or more years.” Unfortunately, this is very unlikely because of an increase in sexual modesty or faith-based chastity. It is more likely a loss of interest in sexuality itself or declining opportunities due to our increased virtual existence of living on screens rather than good old-fashioned face-to-face interaction. People appear to be losing the ability to actually interact with and engage with each other.

Wolfinger adds, “Furthermore, for some of these women there’s every indication that sexlessness may be a permanent state of affairs: the NSFG shows that one out of 20 single female non-virgins over the age of 25 hasn’t had sex in 10 or more years.” But he concludes, in the big picture of careful sociological trend watching, “there’s no way of knowing whether this is merely a blip, or a sign of things to come.”

Either way, this is not a good trend for the future of family and human flourishing. God created us as social creatures who desire marriage, intimacy, and parenting. Trends that move us in the opposite direction are never good for anyone.  

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