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Something strange is going on in America’s bedrooms. In a recent issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers reported that on average, Americans have sex about nine fewer times a year than they did in the late 1990s. The trend is most pronounced among the young. Controlling for age and time period, people born in the 1930s had the most sex, whereas those born in the 1990s are reporting the least. Fifty years on from the advent of the sexual revolution, we are witnessing the demise of eros.

Despite all the talk of the “hookup culture,” the vast majority of sex happens within long-term, well-defined relationships. Yet Americans are having more trouble forming these relationships than ever before. Want to understand the decline of sex? Look to the decline in marriage. As recently as 2000, a majority—55 percent—of Americans between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four were married, compared with only 34 percent who had never been married (see Figure 1). Since then, the two groups have swapped places. By 2014, 52 percent of Americans in that age group had never been married, while only 41 percent were married. Young Americans are now more apt to experience and express passion for some activity, cause, or topic than for another person.

Figure 1.

A decline in commitment isn’t the only reason for the sexual recession. Today one in eight adult Americans is taking antidepressant medication, one of the common side effects of which is reduced libido. Social media use also seems to play a part. The ping of an incoming text message or new Facebook post delivers a bit of a dopamine hit—a smaller one than sex delivers, to be sure, but without all the difficulties of managing a relationship. In a study of married eighteen- to thirty-nine-year-old Americans, social media use predicted poorer marriage quality, lower marital happiness, and increased marital trouble—not exactly a recipe for an active love life.

If these were the only causes, the solution would be straightforward: a little more commitment, a little less screen time, a few more dates over dinner, more time with a therapist, and voilà. But if we follow the data, we will find that the problem goes much deeper, down to one of the foundational tenets of enlightened opinion: the idea that men and women must be equal in every domain. Social science cannot tell us if this is true, but it can tell us what happens if we act as though it is. Today, the results are in. Equality between the sexes is leading to the demise of sex.

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As the father of two daughters, I find this article to be somewhat Neanderthal. I have raised my daughters to be both chaste and self-reliant, educated and compassionate, responsible with an ability to have fun. They are ages 26 and 31. At this age they are both financially independent and socially adept. One is being married this year and one will probably follow the following year.
They have inherited a very complicated world with enormously mixed messages. We want them to be accomplished and take on enormous responsibilities in their jobs, but we refuse to compensate them as well as their predecessors. Family is “important”, but it really takes two incomes to educate your children, have a modest home and plan for retirement. Work 12 hours a day, but stay in shape and look like a million bucks. Have endless energy for your boss and your family….. How about “give me a break”.
While demanding much from our women may be culturally problematic in many ways, including the marital bedroom, bemoaning “equality” is not exactly a legitimate complaint. Is a young father in a modern world suppose to propose to their daughters, “Be beautiful, but unaccomplished, dependent on a would-be spouse, weak, financially and professionally naive, and wait for Prince Charming to walk through the door to offer you picket fences and 2.5 children, while you scrub floors, cook gourmet meals and wait for your Knight in Shining Armor to walk through the door at the end of the day” ?
I am young enough to have been raised in the “enlightened era”, where women were held in equal esteem to men in the work environment as well as at home. As a physician in a demanding residency, I never had any problem seeing women as my peers, friends, and colleagues, or authority figures. My wife is an accomplished CPA, with a mind of her own, and our nightly conversations over the last 36 years have been meaningful and life giving because we come to those conversations with life experiences that are significant and motivating. At times we are both exhausted, but this is the times we live in and to go backwards to the 1950s is as backward of a suggestion as it would be to drive a 1955 Chevy with a chrome bumper, no seat belts and gas mileage of 3 miles/gallon.
There are better suggestions. Mutual respect is probably the best. Time away from work, and the screen, and all the screaming voices- yes a sabbath from the chaos -also could be a good start.
Maybe this is just a poor use of terms. “Equality” is something we usually strive for, not disparage. Equality means different things for different people. Equality may not always mean “the same”. How boring life would be if we are all the same. But I would never raise my daughters today to believe they should strive for “inequality”. I would be raising them to be strong, AND to be navigating the tricky modern world of relationships with a high level of emotional and social intelligence as well as a self-awareness of personal pitfalls of a life that enormously high octane. I would also be encouraging them to date men who are “evolved” and respectful of their accomplishments and demands. They will muttle through these complexities together. It would not be 1955, but it still can have meaning, love and sex.


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