Los Angeles Chapter — California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Los Angeles Chapter — CAMFT
Why Are Young People Not Having Sex?The cultural shift away from relationships
If you are used to your middle-aged clients complaining about their partner’s low libido, you may be surprised to learn that the rate of younger adults who are not having sex has increased over 64%!!
Adults ages 40 and younger are having much less sex than the Baby Boomers did at their age. What’s up with that?
Let me be clear — I believe that everyone should be allowed to choose whether or not to have sex, as long as this involves two consenting adults. However, as therapists we should be concerned about these numbers, because they reflect much more than a drop in sexual activity — they reflect an overall drop in face-to-face human connection.
Lately our culture makes it seem more rewarding to have a healthy resume than to have an IRL relationship with all its messy and complicated feelings.
Here are some of the popular reasons to explain why young people are having less sex — and why I don’t always agree!
PornI’ll just start here, because everyone cites the easy accessibility of internet porn as one of the main reasons people (especially men) aren’t interested in sex or dating any more. But there is more to it than that.
Porn isn’t the reason people don’t want real relationships, it merely makes it so much easier to tolerate what is already a cultural shift away from relationships.
Hookup Culture:Sure, these days there is much less judgment of those who have brief encounters, but are those encounters deeply satisfying? Of course not. Most of my clients who enjoy the hookup culture are still looking for a deeper connection at some point.
Just like porn, the hookup culture reflects cultural values that already existed — it is a result of the way our society is discounting the need for meaningful partnerships, not a cause.
Some Better Explanations Why Young People Aren’t Having Sex:
AntidepressantsWe all know that many people are benefiting from an increased quality of life due to antidepressants. We also know that antidepressants can kill your libido.
But if antidepressants are a reason people are having less sex, they’re certainly not a reason people are eschewing real relationships. In fact, it’s sometimes the pills that make the relationship possible.
Logistics — For the first time in modern history (and by “modern, ”I mean back to 1880!) more young people are living at home with their parents than are living with a partner. This generation is also the first in modern history that is expected to do worse economically than their parents. We all know that it’s logistically complicated to maintain a sexual relationship when one or both partners lives with their parents. Today’s economic environment is a troublesome reason why younger people are having less sex and fewer relationships!
The Truth: Dating Apps Are Killing Relationships (and even Sex!)
Most single people I see have to gear up just to have the energy for all the rejection of modern-day dating. They can only tolerate Tinder or Hinge for a few weeks (or even days!) before they have to log off and regroup for the next round. And there’s no guarantee they will ever even meet anyone IRL — often people they texted for days will just ghost them and leave them wondering what they did wrong. The whole process is discouraging enough that many people just give up.
The illusion of unlimited choice on dating apps makes it feel like a real waste of time to work hard to build a relationship with a less-than-perfect human.
Don’t like the way she dressed for your date? Just ghost her. Don’t like the way he talked about his family? Back on Hinge for the next one. Don’t think his job is stable? Swipe left. Don’t think she’s hot enough? Swipe left. Swipe left. Swipe left.
Before dating apps, people had to try harder.
I think it’s that simple. The illusion of choice is a powerful psychological force.
People think that if they just keep looking, they’ll find someone with whom they can have a perfect and easy relationship. It’s easier to just move on than it is to work at creating something meaningful. This creates a weird and unnatural situation where you have to be perfect or be rejected, and also decide right away if someone is “right”— before you can possibly even know them. It’s enough to discourage anyone from dating!
The young people I see in my practice are all scared to death of dating. They would rather be alone and lonely, or in a dysfunctional relationship, than have to brave the dating culture again.
My clients tend to be high-functioning young adults who are much more comfortable at work or in the classroom than they are on a first date.
"It's a highly motivated, ambitious generation, ”says Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University and chief scientific adviser to the dating site Match.com. “A lot of them are afraid that they'll get into something they can't get out of and they won't be able to get back to their desk and keep studying.” (latimes.com)
Studying is a known path to success, dating much less so. When you’ve spent all of your life studying, and none of your life learning how to build healthy relationships, which one are you supposed to choose?
It’s up to us as therapists to spread the word about relationships:
Lonely people can find each other and build healthy relationships.
Unhappy relationships can get better.
And most importantly of all . . .
Don’t look for the perfect mate; look for someone who is willing to look at their own contribution to any problems, and who wants to grow as a human and as a partner.
Young people may be choosing to have less sex, but let’s do our best as therapists to make sure that they still value and believe in the power of deeply connected relationships.
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California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists
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