Sex Ed

Americans are Having Less Sex Today Than 25 Years Ago

April 10, 2017 by Justin Lehmiller

A new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior offers a fascinating analysis of the way American adults’ sex lives changed between the years 1989 and 2014. Specifically, it focuses on changes in the estimated number of times per year that Americans reported having had sex using data from the General Social Survey (GSS), a nationally representative U.S. survey that is conducted annually. The results suggest that, overall, Americans today are less sexually active than they were a quarter century ago.

Before we quantify this, let’s first step back and look at exactly what was asked of participants. Each year on the GSS, participants were prompted to estimate how often they had sex during the last 12 months using a scale ranging from 0—meaning “not at all”—to 6—meaning “more than three times a week.” These responses were then rescaled in order to compute an estimated total number of times per year that each person had sex. For example, a score of 6 (the highest number of the scale) was recorded as the equivalent of having had sex 260 times per year (assuming an average of 5 times per week for 52 weeks). As you can see, we’re obviously not dealing with precise numbers here, so do keep that limitation in mind.

Once the researchers made these calculations, they looked at the estimated overall average number of times Americans reported having sex each year, and this is what they found:

Average estimated number of times Americans had sex 1989-2014, according to Twenge, Sherman, and Wells (2017).

As you can see, sexual frequency declined over the 25-year period. When comparing estimated frequencies from the mid/late-90s to now, we see that Americans today are having sex an estimated 9 times less per year. Interestingly, a decline in frequency occurred across virtually every demographic group they examined, including gender, race, religion, and whether or not children were living at home.

Again, it’s important to caution that we aren’t dealing with precise numbers and that we’re talking about estimates of sexual frequency. Moreover, “sex” wasn’t defined for participants in the survey question they were asked, which means that we don’t know exactly what people were counting or whether interpretation of what “sex” means has changed over the years.

Limitations aside, these findings beg the question of why? And, further, what the heck does it all mean? Stay tuned for the answers to those questions because we’ll take a look at them in my next post.

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Data Source: Twenge, J. M., Sherman, R. A., & Wells, B. E. (2017). Declines in Sexual Frequency among American Adults, 1989–2014. Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Image Source: 123RF

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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