The generation that fails all? After a myriad of people belting out how we, the Millennials, have failed the world, there’s a new complaint in the game, and if I may, a superfluous one. If you haven’t heard about it yet, let me enlighten you, we, are falling, yet again; falling behind on our duty as sexual beings. We’re not having enough intercourse, the coitus is lacking, we’re not hiding the salami right, we are to fornicate/copulate more often, I can go ahead and call it a thousand more names, but what it comes down to is that we are not having enough sex.
The sexual economy of the world seems to be in danger. Of course, this conclusion is met with evidence from surveys done on American grounds and on Americans but there seems to lie an innate truth to it. The Atlantic’s December cover story threw light on this. I’m sure Kate Julian’s extensive research on the topic and terming of the phenomenon ‘Sexual Recession’ brought her just as much hate as it did fame, but from what I could procure, she left no page unturned, except the veil of obvious bias, but we’ll come to that later.
In a full tell-all, supported by a General Social Survey (GSS) in 2016, conducted at the University of Chicago, she lists out reasons behind the recession―the assumed ones, why it occurred in the first place and why this recession is specific to the Millennials. Her article is a long read―heavy with insight and stories from across her social sphere―and, given a choice, I’d award her. Her article shone light upon something that we were all aware of in parts, and albeit she only showed off the parts that worked in her favour, she did make sure that all was listed, with enough to make us not counter her points.
As Foucault would say, we love talking about sex, we enjoy discussing it not just as a primal need rather as a form of entertainment. Sexuality, he said, was a construct of human discourse. “We convince ourselves that we have never said enough on the subject,” he wrote in his (four-volume) The History of Sexuality. “It is possible that where sex is concerned, the most long-winded, the most impatient of societies is our own.” Personally, I’d say, few fields of human behaviour—and none more important—are this hard to explain. As something that has been talked about ever so often, from religious scriptures telling us how and when to do it, oh, and of course, when not to, to trilogies earning billions with 1001 pages of ‘teeth-clenchingly good’ sex. We all know of it, but why and how it became the talk of the town, albeit uttered only in hushed tones, is vague.
The aforementioned GSS determined that people who are in their early 20s right now are two and a half times as likely to be abstinent as Gen Xers were at the same age. Specifically, between the years 1990 to 2014, the average adult went from having sex 62 times a year to 54 times a year, therefore, the hoola-hoo about the downfall in the Sexual Economy. If I were to meet the ‘spokesperson’ of this Sexual Economy that we all have now been made aware of, I’d only have one word to say: ‘Damn.’ Just so one is kept in the know, it’s not just an American problem. Most countries don’t track their citizens’ sex lives closely. But those that try, mostly the ones who are extremely wealthy, are reporting their own sex delays and declines. One of the most respected sex studies in the world, Britain’s National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, reported in 2001 that people between the ages of 16 to 44 were having sex more than six times a month, on average. By 2012, the rate had dropped to fewer than five times. Over approximately the same period, Australians in relationships went from having sex around 1.8 times a week to 1.4 times. Finland’s ‘Finsex’ study found declines in frequency of coitus, coupled with increasing rates of masturbation. In the Netherlands, the median age at which people first have intercourse rose from 17.1 in 2012 to 18.6 in 2017, and other types of physical contact also got pushed back, even kissing. In fertility-challenged Japan, which is already in the midst of a demographic crisis and has become something of a case study in the dangers of sexlessness, a third of single people aged 18 to 34 were virgins as of the year 2005; but by 2015, 43% of people reported the same. Japan has been infiltrated by several cultural complexes: Hikikomori (the phenomenon of complete isolation from society) being one of them.
However, whatever’s going on here does not seem like a ‘millennial trend’. It really probably pertains to people in their 20s, so younger millennials or Gen-Z. We tend to talk about millennials as if they are some group that just landed here intact, whereas it’s more useful to talk about what it’s like to be a young person, at this point. Not to mention, the fear of a “sex recession” is misdirected. A drop in sexual encounters from 62 to 54 times a year means that the average adult is still having sex more than once a week. Millennials are having to deal with things previous generations haven’t dealt with, and it’s useful to clarify that. As and when I read more about this, I found that people think online connectivity and smartphones have had a dramatic effect on how people’s lives are shaped and their behaviours. That’s probably true for most generational groups, and for the groups that use technology more, that’d be truer. Tinder has only made things easier, so why the lack? My only problem was why 2 and 2 didn’t add up to 4.
So, I went digging, and found a Cosmopolitan article (yes, I went there) and believe me, if The Atlantic makes you believe you’re not having enough sex, Cosmopolitan will assure you enough for a lifetime, or well, at least a couple of months. The survey research showed a decline in sex mainly among white, middle-aged, married couples, which, of course, is a very, very small bracket to be construed as an entire generation’s problem. Julian’s tone in The Atlantic––listing a myriad of theories to explain the drop, from smartphones to economic instability to Tinder––was cautionary, I’ll give her that. But, news of the so-called “sex recession” provoked reactions across the internet, from Vox to Vice—not to mention the plethora of comments which turned it into madness with no method. Companies have picked up on this, more researches are being based on the same and while all that is great, there’s a problem that doesn’t exist and is yet being worked upon.
People are different now; sex is different now. Dictionaries may still consider sex to be vaginal penetration, but to us—it may be anything from second base to the seventh one. Sexuality is explored more. People are more aware of what it is that they want, there’s more to it than just genitals having a meet and greet, pleasure plays a huge role in how sex is seen. I would highly recommend that people read Julian’s article and all the reasons she gives for us to not be having enough sex: from stress to bad, painful encounters, but with a grain of salt. We may be failing to do a gazillion more things, but for once, I can attest sex is something we’re doing a bang-up job of (all puns intended.) Tinder, Bumble and Grindr have only made it more relevant. Nothing one does to explore it can be wrong, not until someone is harmed. There is no ‘normal’ amount of sex. Worrying about how much sex one’s having—which can increase anxiety, decrease body confidence, and hinder healthy communication—is not good for one’s sex life, either. Ironic, isn’t it? In terms of desired sexual activity, every individual, and every couple is different, including people who identify as asexual. Just the idea of #MeToo challenges the notion that we can measure our sex lives by anything other than our own generational values and self-reported satisfaction.
On a fundamental level, I share Julian’s concern when she writes that she “was taken aback by what seemed like heartbreaking changes in the way many people were relating—or not relating—to one another.” This is what we should focus our attention on. It turns out, though, that a small drop in aggregate annual sexual frequency has no demonstrable effect on how couples form and sustain, fulfilling relationships. If people aren’t having sex but they’re doing other things they find fulfilling, that’s great. But if people are not having sex, and wish they were, that’s more of a concern, wouldn’t you say?
All I have to say is that every generation has its faults counted, every generation has to face things the previous ones didn’t have to endure. While one is yet to see how much more can be done, can be changed or morphed, I am sure that our shapeshifter of a generation won’t be a disappointment. Sex or not.
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