Young Adults Are Having Less Casual Sex. A New Study Found 3 Reasons Why
Young American adults are not as frisky as they used to be. Between 2000 and 2002, 18.9% of men aged 18 to 24 were sexually inactive. Between 2016 and 2018, that tally climbed to 30.9%. Over that same time period, the rate of sexual inactivity among young women grew from 15.1% to 19.1%.
This new trend is neither inherently good nor bad. A decline in casual sex among young adults likely means fewer cases of sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies. On the other hand, the dearth could inhibit young adults' psychosocial development at a tender time. Plus, you know, less sex.
In a new study published to the journal Socius, Scott J. South, a Distinguished Professor in Sociology at the University at Albany, and Lei Lei, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Rutgers, teamed up to explore what could be driving this new wave of sexual abstinence.
South and Lei used data gathered between 2007 and 2017 from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) Transition into Adulthood Supplement, focusing on 18- to 23-year-olds. The study, which "began in 1968 with a nationally representative sample of over 18,000 individuals living in 5,000 families in the United States", afforded them a sizable sample of 945 women and 1,040 men.
PSID gathered in-depth demographic data from participants, along with information about daily habits, living situations, and income, among many other personal details. This allowed South and Lei to explore how the decline in casual sex correlated with broad changes in other habits and life factors, as well as to compare the characteristics of sexually active young adults with their less sexually active cohorts.
Here's what the researchers discovered:
We find that about one quarter of the drop in young women’s propensity to have casual sex is attributable to a decline in their frequency of drinking alcohol. Of the various sources of the decline in sexual activity considered in this analysis, the decline in alcohol consumption is the only factor that explains a significant portion of the decline.
A slightly different story emerged for young men.
As with young women, a decline in the frequency of drinking alcohol is an important source of young men’s diminished likelihood of having casual sex. But unlike for young women, among young men increases in the frequency of playing computer games and in the tendency to reside in the parental home also play important roles.
These reasons are all pretty easy to understand. Imbibing booze lubricates social activities and lessens inhibitions. Playing computer games draws attention away from sexual pursuits. Living at your parents' house can be a buzzkill.
The researchers noted that young adults' financial security lessened over the study period, but this did not seem to have any effect on their sexual activity.
Another possible explanation unexplored in the study is that young adults may simply be pushing back their casual sex exploits to later in life. People are attaining careers later, getting married later, and having kids later. The pursuit of sexual relationships may have followed the same trend.
Source: South SJ, Lei L. Why Are Fewer Young Adults Having Casual Sex? Socius. January 2021. doi:10.1177/2378023121996854