Sex Ed

Changes in Americans’ Sexual Behavior Since the 1990s

August 7, 2019 by Justin Lehmiller

How have Americans’ sexual behaviors changed over the past quarter of a century? A recent study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior offers some insight.

In this study, researchers explored data from the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey conducted in the United States most years [1]. Sexual behavior isn’t the main focus of this survey, but several questions about sex are included on it, including how many partners people have ever had as well as who they have had sex with in the past year. So what did they find?

I’ve summarized some of the key results in the infographic below, which indicate that Americans today are having more partners and more casual sex (including more friends with benefits) than they were in the 1990s. These findings are interesting to contrast with other recent reports about changes in Americans’ sexual behavior, which suggest that people are having less sex today than they were in the past.

In other words, Americans may be engaging in fewer sex acts than they were previously, but the sex they are having is occurring with a larger number of partners, and more of it is taking place outside the context of committed relationships. These trends may be explained, in part, by broader changes in American adults relationships, including the fact that the marriage rate is at an all-time low and young adults are waiting longer than ever to get married. When you consider that married partners tend to have more sex on average than those who are single [2], it makes sense that if people are spending more of their lives unmarried, they may be having sex less frequently, yet simultaneously have the opportunity to pursue more partners.


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[1] Twenge, J. M., Sherman, R. A., & Wells, B. E. (2015). Changes in American adults’ sexual behavior and attitudes, 1972–2012. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(8), 2273-2285.

[2] National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB). Findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, Centre for Sexual Health Promotion, Indiana University. Journal of Sexual Medicine, Vol. 7, Supplement 5.

Image Source: 123RF/Andrea De Martin

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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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