Sex Ed

Are We Really in a “Sex Recession?”

January 16, 2019 by Justin Lehmiller


A recent study suggests that Americans are having less sex today than they were a quarter-century ago. These findings have received a lot of attention—I covered them on the blog when they were published in 2017, and they’ve been discussed in countless media articles around the world since, culminating in a widely read piece in The Atlantic last month, which took the results to mean that we’re in the midst of a “sex recession.”

This has stoked a bit of a panic—less sex is bad, right? Well, I’ve been giving this idea a lot of thought and just published a piece on the topic over at TONIC. The short version is this: when you go back to the original data used to support the “sex recession” claim, there’s a major limitation, which is that “sex” wasn’t defined in that research.

We know that sexual behaviors have changed significantly across generations. For example, behaviors like oral and anal sex are more common today than they were 25 years ago; however, a lot of people don’t count these behaviors as “having sex” (same goes for “cybersex,” if people still use that term). So when we look at people’s answers to ambiguous questions about how many times they “had sex” in the last year, it’s not clear exactly what they’re capturing, especially when we’re comparing the responses of people several decades apart.

Another way think about this is that, yes, people are reporting less “sex”; at the same time, though, they’re also reporting that they have the most diverse and varied sex lives ever. We’re engaging in a wider range of sexual activities than we used to, which suggests that maybe we aren’t in a sex recession after all.

To learn more, check out the full article over at TONIC.

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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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