In 1975, David Bowie famously sang of a girl who wanted “the young American/ All night”. Nearly 50 years later, however, a lot of young Americans are having less sex – and can’t even blame the coronavirus for it.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, data collected between 2000 and 2018, two years before the pandemic, shows that “approximately one in three men aged 18 to 24 years reported no sexual activity in the past year.
“Sexual inactivity also increased among men and women aged 25 to 34 years, with the increase among men mainly occurring among unmarried individuals.”
A chief reason for the decline, one study author said, is that adolescents – perhaps partly warned by Bowie’s lines “She took his ring, took his babies/ It took him minutes, took her nowhere” – are taking longer to grow into adulthood.
“It is more difficult to date and engage in sexual activity when not economically independent of one’s parents,” Dr Jean M Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, said in a statement quoted by CNN.
Twenge – the author of books including iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood – also pointed to “the growth of the internet and digital media”.
“There are now many more choices of things to do in the late evening than there once were,” she said, “and fewer opportunities to initiate sexual activity if both partners are engrossed in social media, electronic gaming, or binge-watching”.
Twenge has also found evidence that Americans in general are having less sex. In 2018, a team she led detailed a 14% decline in sexual frequency among US adults in the 2010s, compared to the 1990s.
Reports on sexual activity in the age of Covid-19, under social distancing and lockdown orders, suggest things may only get worse from here.
Writing for the Guardian in May, NHS psychosexual therapist Dr Karen Gurney said: “The fact that sex isn’t a priority for a large proportion of people fits with findings from sex research along with, well, common sense.
“Stress and anxiety are known to reduce our sexual desire and a preoccupation with the news, our finances, the health of our loved ones, or how much is in our store cupboards, can understandably slow the wheels of our sex life to a standstill.”