Monday, March 20, 2017

Stress, poor health contributing to less sex

Previously published, Terre Haute Tribune-Star, 19 March 2017

“About how often did you have sex during the last 12 months?” The General Social Survey, a respected annual survey since 1972, heavily used by social scientists, has asked this question regularly since 1989. A recent publication, “Declines in Sexual Frequency among American Adults, 1989-2014” analyzes changes in responses to that question . Overall, the trends are down, which explains probably why general happiness among Americans is down as well.
“American adults reported having sex about nine times a year less often in the early 2010s than in the late 1990s” the authors find. After considerable statistical analysis, the decline in sexual frequency reflects a generational change. The average Millenial (born in the 1980s) had sex about six times a year less than the average Silent generation member (born in the 1930s). Declines are similar across sex, race, region and the presence of minor children in the household. Contrary to popular culture presentation, married couples have more sex than others, but that too has declined and accounts for much of the overall reduction. Thus, the decrease overall in the number of married people and the decline in frequency of sex among marrieds explains much of the observed decline. These conclusions take into account the overall aging population (older folks have less sex than younger ones and the increase in the consumption of pornography (which is associated with more sex).
The rest of the article attempts to suggest why this is the case including possibly the Clintonian “what does it, ‘sex’, mean?”
One trend that the authors do not explicitly discuss is America’s increasing weight and obesity problem. According to the National Institute of Health since 1962 obesity has more than doubled among adults 20 and older. Adding in the overweight, today about 70 percent of adult Americans are overweight or obese compared to a bit more than half in 1990. While the authors suggest that some drugs that are related to diabetes, cholesterol, and blood pressure may affect sexual performance and desire, they also report that drugs for erectile dysfunction should enhance sexual activity, they do not address directly what all that extra weight might do to American sexual frequency.
Sex, regardless of how one might define it, narrowly as involving heterosexual intercourse (likely how the Silent Generation did) or more expansively to include, …, well you know, and if you don’t then ask a thirty-something, requires some physical activity, a certain amount of agility, and let’s not discount the physical appearances of those engaged. And while those who watched a pornographic movie in the last week have more sex, today’s pornography is different than yesterday’s. The images in the Victoria’s Secret catalog today were pretty much limited to the pages of soft core pornography in the ‘80s. And mass media imagery impacts what people think is sexy, attractive and desirable.
Another change since the late ‘80s is abstinence-only sex education. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 1988 abstinence-only sex education accounted for only 2 percent of all sex education, but by the 2010s, nearly 23 percent. What kind of message does abstinence only sex education send about sex aside from it should be confined to marriage? If sex is portrayed as a threat to one’s self, as a corrupting or staining outcome except inside the confines of marriage conducted for procreative purposes, such a view of sex would likely diminish overall sexual activity as well. And with fertility rates at near historic lows, even procreative sex within marriage appears to be ebbing.
Lastly, for those who distrust government or academic research, what does research from commercial interests say about sex? Durex, the condom manufacturer, studies sexual satisfaction internationally and they conclude the following: the physical drivers of sexual satisfaction are being free from stress and good mental and physical health, being free from stress to achieve orgasm, being free from sexual dysfunction, and the frequency of sex and foreplay. The emotional drivers of sexual satisfaction are feeling close to your partner, having an exciting sex life, being free from sexual dysfunction, and having a good first sexual experience. 
In short, being healthy and free of stress is key. As a nation, we seem unhealthier and more stressed. No wonder sexual frequency may be at an all-time low.

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