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Declines in Sexual Frequency among American Adults, 1989–2014

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Declines in Sexual Frequency among American Adults, 1989–2014

Abstract and Figures

American adults had sex about nine fewer times per year in the early 2010s compared to the late 1990s in data from the nationally representative General Social Survey, N = 26,620, 1989–2014. This was partially due to the higher percentage of unpartnered individuals, who have sex less frequently on average. Sexual frequency declined among the partnered (married or living together) but stayed steady among the unpartnered, reducing the marital/partnered advantage for sexual frequency. Declines in sexual frequency were similar across gender, race, region, educational level, and work status and were largest among those in their 50s, those with school-age children, and those who did not watch pornography. In analyses separating the effects of age, time period, and cohort, the decline was primarily due to birth cohort (year of birth, also known as generation). With age and time period controlled, those born in the 1930s (Silent generation) had sex the most often, whereas those born in the 1990s (Millennials and iGen) had sex the least often. The decline was not linked to longer working hours or increased pornography use. Age had a strong effect on sexual frequency: Americans in their 20s had sex an average of about 80 times per year, compared to about 20 times per year for those in their 60s. The results suggest that Americans are having sex less frequently due to two primary factors: An increasing number of individuals without a steady or marital partner and a decline in sexual frequency among those with partners.
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ORIGINAL PAPER
Declines in Sexual Frequency among American Adults, 1989–2014
Jean M. Twenge
1
Ryne A. Sherman
2
Brooke E. Wells
3
Received: 18 May 2016 / Revised: 27 January 2017/ Accepted: 28 January 2017
ÓSpringer Science+Business Media New York 2017
Abstract American adults had sex about nine fewer times
per year in the early 2010s compared to the late 1990s in data
from the nationally representative General Social Survey, N=
26,620, 1989–2014. This was partially due to the higher per-
centage of unpartnered individuals, who have sex less fre-
quently on average. Sexual frequency declined among the
partnered (marriedor living together) but stayed steadyamong
the unpartnered, reducing the marital/partnered advantage for
sexual frequency. Declines in sexual frequency were similar
across gender, race, region, educational level, and work status
and were largest among those in their 50s, those with school-
age children, and those who did not watch pornography. In
analyses separating the effectsof age, time period, and cohort,
the decline was primarilydue to birth cohort (year of birth, also
known as generation). With age and time period controlled,
those born in the 1930s (Silent generation) had sex the most
often, whereas those born in the 1990s (Millennials and iGen)
had sex the least often. The decline was not linked to longer
working hours or increased pornographyuse. Age had a strong
effect on sexual frequency: Americans in their 20s had sex an
average of about 80 timesper year, compared to about 20 times
per year for those in their 60s. The results suggest that Amer-
icans are having sex less frequentlydue to two primary factors:
An increasing number of individuals without a steady or mar-
ital partner and a declinein sexual frequency among those with
partners.
Keywords Sexual frequency Sexual activity Marriage
Birth cohort Generations Time period
Introduction
Sex has come outinto the open in the last few decades in Amer-
ican culture. Americans are now much more likely to approve
of premarital sex and sex between two same-sex adults
(Twenge, Sherman, & Wells, 2015), young people regularly
access sexual informationonline (Do
¨ring,Daneback,Shaugh-
nessy, Grov, & Byers, 2015), and pornography consumption
has become more commonplace and more accepted (Lykke &
Cohen, 2015; Price, Patterson, Regnerus, & Walley, 2016; Wright,
2013; Wright, Bae, & Funk, 2013), particularly with discreet
access via the internet (Carroll et al., 2008).
Does that mean that Americans are having more sex? A
plausibleargument could be made forboth an affirmative and a
negative answer. On the affirmative side, birth control has be-
come more reliable and accessible, which may encourage or
allow greater sexual frequency. More permissive attitudes to-
ward premarital, casual, and same-sexsexual activity mayalso
have increased sexual frequency (Lemer, Blodgett Salafia, &
Benson,2013). New tec hnologies such a so nline dating (ma tch.
com) and hook-up apps (Tinder) make it easier for people to
locate sexual partners. Additionally, interest in consensual
non-monogamy (as indicated by Google searches) may be on
the rise (Moors, 2017). The accessibility of information about
sexuality may make sex more pleasurable and therefore more
frequent.Finally,althoughageisaconsistentpredictorof lower
sexual frequency and the U.S. population has aged over the
decades, longer life expectancies and longer active life expec-
&Jean M. Twenge
jtwenge@mail.sdsu.edu
1
Department of Psychology, San Diego State University, 5500
Campanile Drive, San Diego, CA 92182- 4611, USA
2
Department of Psychology, Florida Atlantic University,
Boca Raton, FL, USA
3
Centerfor Human Sexuality Studies, Widener University, Chester,
PA, USA
123
Arch Sex Behav
DOI 10.1007/s10508-017-0953-1
tancies (Manton, Gu, & Lamb, 2006), coupled with the wide-
spread availability of erectile function medications (Lee, Naz-
roo, & Pendleton, 2015), may offset some of the decline in sexual
frequency expected in an aging population.
On the negative side, Americans work more hours (Green-
stone & Looney, 2011) and spend more time with children
(Ramey & Ramey, 2010) than in the past, possibly reducing the
amount of time that can be spent on sexual intimacy. The ubiq-
uity of entertainment and social media options in recent decades,
from streaming video to gaming to Facebook, may also make
sexual activity just one of an array of pleasurable options. In
addition, the increased availability and consumption of pornog-
raphy (Price et al., 2016) may provide sexual outlets outside of
sex with a partner. Though pornography consumption is asso-
ciated with a higher probability of engagement in casual sex
(Wright, 2012) and more sexual partners (Morgan, 2011), por-
nography viewing itself is often a solitary activity, and the fre-
quency of intercourse is negatively correlated with both the fre-
quency of masturbation and the self-reported negative effects of
pornography consumption (Hald & Malamuth, 2008). In addi-
tion, happiness among adults over 30 has declined since 2000
(Twenge, Sherman, & Lyubomirsky, 2016a), and more frequent
sex is associated with higher levels of well-being and happiness
(Blanchflower & Oswald, 2004;Cheng&Smyth,2015;
Michael, Gagnon, Laumann, & Kolata, 1994;Muise,Schim-
mack, & Impett, 2016). Depressive symptoms are higher in re-
cent generations (Twenge, 2015), and both depression and its
pharmaceutical treatments are associated with sexual dysfunc-
tions such as reduced sexual desire and arousability (Atlantis &
Sullivan, 2012; Laumann & Waite, 2008). The environment con-
tains more estrogen-mimicking compounds, possibly reducing
sex drive (at least in animal models: Dickerson & Gore, 2007).
Finally, fewer Americans are partnered now compared to in the
past. For example, the percentage of Americans aged 18–29 not
living with a partner (married or unmarried) increased from 48%
in 2005 to 64% in 2014 (Saad, 2015). Given that married people
have sex more often on average than unmarried people (e.g.,
Michael et al., 1994),thedecline in the percentage ofmarried (and
partnered) individuals may have a major impact on trends in
sexual frequency.
Trends in sexual frequency are important given the link be-
tween sexual frequency and well-being (e.g., Muise et al., 2016;
Wadsworth, 2014). In addition, sexual frequency is associated
with relationship satisfaction, which may mediate the association
between sexual frequency and overall well-being (Muise et al.,
2016).Dissatisfaction with the frequency of sex is among the most
common complaints in long-term relationships (Risch, Riley, &
Lawler, 2003). Sexual activity is also associated with a range of
physical and mental health benefits (Brody, 2010). On the other
hand, sexual frequency also raises the odds for negative health
outcomes such as unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted
infections (Burchell et al., 2006;Grayetal.,2001; Wilcox, Dun-
son, Weinberg, Trussell, & Baird, 2001). Finally, a variety of poli-
cies, including those regarding sex education, access to contra-
ception, and access to safe and legal abortions, may impact sexual
frequency. As such, understanding base level trends in sexual
frequency is key to developing better models of the complex
associations between policy decisions and individual behavior.
Behavioral and attitudinal trends over time can involve three
different processes (Schaie,1965;Yang,2008).First, change can
be due to age or development. For example, sexual frequency
declines with age (i.e., Schick et al., 2010). Second, change can
be due to time period change that affects people of all ages, also
known as a cultural change. Perhaps Americans of all ages have
sex more (or less) frequently than they did in previous decades,
due to the reasons previously mentioned. Third, changes in pre-
valence could be due to cohort (also known as generation), a cul-
tural change that affects young people the most. Perhaps more
recent cohorts have sex more (or less) frequently than previous
cohorts at the same age. Recently introduced mixed-effects
modelsbasedonhierarchicallinear modeling allow the sepa-
ration of the three effects using a technique known as age-period-
cohort analysis (APC: Yang, 2008;Yang&Land,2013).
In this article, we explore trends in sexual frequency among
American adults, drawing from the General Social Survey, a
nationally representative sample of Americans that has asked
participants about how often they have sex since 1989. To sep-
arate the effects of age, time period, and cohort, we employed
APC analysis. We also examined possible moderators such as
gender, race, education level, region, marital status, living with a
partner,andhavingchildreninthe household, as well as possible
explanations for trends in sexual frequency such as longer work-
ing hours and pornography use.
Method
Participants
The GSS is a nationally representative sample of Americans over
18 years old, collected in most years between 1972 and 2014
(N=56,859; for the variables in the current analysis, N=
26,620). The GSS data and codebooks are available online
(Smith,Marsden,Hout,&Kim,2015). As suggested by the GSS
administrators, we weighted the descriptive statistics by the vari-
able WTSSALL to make the sample nationally representative of
individuals rather than households. The weighting variable pri-
marily corrects for the greater probability of those in smaller
households to be included, as only one person per household is
surveyed.
Measures
Since 1989, the GSS has included the item,‘‘About how often did
you have sex during the last 12 months?’’with choices ranging
from 0 =‘not at all,’’to 6 =‘more than three times a week.’’ Non-
Arch Sex Behav
123
response was uncommon (5.7% refused to answer and .2%
answered‘don’t know,’’ for a 94% response rate).
To estimate the number of times a year participants had sex,
we recoded the responses as:‘‘not at all’=0 to‘‘More than three
times a week’ =5952 =260. We used these numbers as an
estimate only and not for standardized effect sizes, instead
basing effect sizes on the original 0–6 scale. It should also be
kept in mind that these estimates are right skewed, with those
who have sex very frequently pulling the numbers upward.
The 2012 dataset was an extreme outlier that suggested a
coding issue. Only 3.1% were in the‘‘not at all’’ (not having sex in
the last year) category, while in other years of data collection this
response averaged 18.6% with little variation. Missing data—
primarily those who were not asked the question—were 36.9% in
2012 compared to 53.2% in other years, also suggesting a coding
issue. The 2014 data resembled the years before 2012, making it
seem unlikely this was a time-based trend. Thus, we excluded the
2012 data.
The GSS also included demographic variables, making it pos-
sible to determine whether changes in sexual frequency differed
by group. We analyzed moderation by gender (men vs. women),
race(White, Black, and Other),educationlevel (high school grad-
uate and below vs. 2-year college degree and above), US region
(Northeast,Midwest,South,andWest), labor force status (work-
ing full time vs. part time or not at all), and marital status (married,
widowed, divorced, separated, and never married; we also com-
pared married individuals to unmarried individuals, combining
widowed, divorced, separated, and never married—although
separated individuals are technically married, we included them
with unmarried individuals for ease of analysis). The presence of
minor children was obtained from the variables noting the num-
ber of children in the household of various ages. A single item
asked about pornography use (‘‘Have you seen an X-rated movie
in the past year?’’ with possible responses of‘yes’ or ‘‘no’). We
also examined an item asking participants how many hours they
worked in the last week.
An item asking about living with partners was asked in a
limited number of years (2000, 2004, 2006, 2012, and 2014),
with choices of married and living in the same household (ab-
breviated in the tables as married, living together), living ‘as
married and my partner and I together live in the same house-
hold’’ ( living together, not married), married or with a ‘‘steady
partner but we don’t live in the same household’’ (married or
partner, not living together), and ‘‘don’t have a steady partner’
(no steady partner). To examine effects of the length of the
relationship, we used the item asking when the participant was
first married (asked in 1989–1994 and 2006), excluding those
who were divorced, separated, or widowed.
Procedure
We took several approaches to analyzing the data. First, we
examined correlations between the year of data collection and
sexual frequency, both bivariate and controlled for age, marital
status, and race. Second, we examined sexual frequency by 5-
year blocks of time for all participants and within demographic
groups, including an effect size (d, or difference in terms of
standard deviations). Third, we examined the trend in the corre-
lation between marital status and sexual frequency. Fourth, we
performed an APC analysis to determine the unique effects of
age, time period, and cohort on sexual frequency. Fifth, we
matched yearly averages for working hours and pornography
consumption with average sexual frequency to discover whether
the variables changed in the same pattern.
In describing the trends, we occasionally employ common
labels for the generations such as the Silent (born 1925–1945),
Boomers (1946–1964), GenX (1965–1979), Millennials (1980–
1994), and iGen (1995–2012; for reviews, see Twenge, 2014,
2017). These birth year cutoffs are arbitrary and are not neces-
sarily justified by empirical evidence, but are useful labels for
those born in certain eras.
Results
Trends in Sexual Frequency by Year
American adults had sex less often in recent years, with an espe-
cially steep decline after 2000 (see Table 1). The decline in sexual
frequency appeared among men and women; Blacks,Whites, and
those of other races; those with more and less education; in the
East, Midwest, South, and West; among those with minor chil-
dren in the household and those without; among married and
divorced individuals; and among married individuals and those
living together. The decline was largest among those in their 50s,
Whites, those with a college degree, married individuals, those
with children aged 6–12 in the household, and those who had not
seen a pornographic movie in the last year (see Table 1). The
largest declines appeared among the highly educated (d=-.28)
and those married and living together (d=-.31). The decline
was not significant among those over 60, with children under age
6, who did not live with their partners, without a steady partner, or
the never married.
Using the estimates for yearly sexual frequency, American
adults had sex about seven times per year less often in the early
2010s (vs. the early 1990s) and about nine times a year less often
than in the late 1990s. As recently as 2002, the average adult
American had sex approximately 64 times a year, but by 2014
that declined to about 53 times a year (see Table 2;Fig.1). The
decline in sexual frequency was the largest among those with a
college degree (about 15 fewer times a year), in the South (about
13 fewer times a year), and among married or divorced indi-
viduals (about 11 fewer times a year). As for main effects,
younger people had sex more often than older people, men more
often than women, Non-Whites more than Whites, residents of
the West more than other regions, those who lived together more
Arch Sex Behav
123
Table 1 Changes in sexual frequency (0–6 scale) among American adults, 1989–2014
n1989–1994 1995–1999 2000–2004 2005–2009 2010–2014 Change in sex acts
per year (1st to last), d
Change in sex acts
per year (max), d
All adults 26,620 3.02 (1.90) 3.09 (1.88) 3.01 (1.93) 2.86 (1.96) 2.74 (1.95) -.15*** -.18***
Age groups (time-lag design=cohort ?time period)
18–29 6050 3.46 (1.94) 3.49 (1.94) 3.52 (1.96) 3.45 (1.92) 3.32 (1.99) -.07 -.10*
30–39 5761 3.76 (1.55) 3.67 (1.57) 3.78 (1.58) 3.65 (1.66) 3.62 (1.65) -.09* -.10*
40–49 5497 3.34 (1.61) 3.41 (1.62) 3.26 (1.71) 3.24 (1.79) 3.18 (1.78) -.10* -.14**
50–59 4114 2.80 (1.73) 2.84 (1.79) 2.60 (1.79) 2.52 (1.84) 2.45 (1.77) -.20*** -.22***
60–69 2742 1.98 (1.74) 2.02 (1.74) 1.99 (1.69) 1.90 (1.76) 1.81 (1.73) -.10 -.12
Over 70 2455 .86 (1.37) .95 (1.45) .93 (1.51) .88 (1.36) .96 (1.42) -.07 .01
Gender
Men 12,212 3.21 (1.80) 3.27 (1.79) 3.20 (1.88) 3.04 (1.90) 2.95 (1.88) -.14*** -.17***
Women 14,408 2.86 (1.96) 2.94 (1.95) 2.84 (1.96) 2.71 (2.00) 2.55 (1.99) -.16*** -.20***
Race
White 21,386 3.01 (1.89) 3.09 (1.87) 2.97 (1.92) 2.80 (1.93) 2.70 (1.93) -.16*** -.21***
Black 3264 3.11 (1.93) 2.96 (1.95) 3.15 (2.00) 3.04 (2.07) 2.81 (2.01) -.15** -.17**
Other 1970 2.98 (1.92) 3.29 (1.87) 3.23 (1.90) 3.16 (1.98) 2.87 (1.96) -.06 -.22**
Education
High school degree or less 17,974 2.94 (1.96) 3.02 (1.94) 2.97 (2.00) 2.84 (2.02) 2.73 (2.02) -.11*** -.15***
2-year college degree or more 8598 3.23 (1.71) 3.25 (1.75) 3.09 (1.79) 2.90 (1.85) 2.75 (1.81) -.27*** -.28***
Region
East 4909 2.94 (1.90) 2.96 (1.92) 2.85 (1.93) 2.68 (1.90) 2.67 (1.91) -.14** -.15**
Midwest 6435 3.02 (1.88) 3.03 (1.90) 3.02 (1.92) 2.73 (1.91) 2.72 (1.93) -.16*** -.16***
South 9357 3.06 (1.90) 3.13 (1.88) 3.09 (1.95) 2.95 (1.96) 2.72 (1.94) -.18*** -.22***
West 5919 3.04 (1.91) 3.20 (1.82) 3.01 (1.91) 2.98 (2.01) 2.83 (2.01) -.11* -.19***
Marital status
Married 14,885 3.47 (1.58) 3.53 (1.54) 3.44 (1.58) 3.23 (1.68) 3.10 (1.67) -.23*** -.27***
Widowed 1554 .52 (1.28) .99 (1.70) .67 (1.43) .50 (1.26) .59 (1.35) .05 -.26**
Divorced 3038 2.64 (2.08) 2.62 (2.14) 2.41 (2.11) 2.41 (2.17) 2.20 (2.12) -.21*** -.21***
Never married 6434 2.65 (2.09) 2.82 (2.05) 2.89 (2.12) 2.80 (2.11) 2.75 (2.09) -.05 -.07
Unmarried (all combined) 11,731 2.33 (2.13) 2.52 (2.12) 2.49 (2.17) 2.43 (2.16) 2.35 (2.14) .01 -.08**
Living situation
Married, living together 2276 3.49 (1.54) 3.00 (1.64) -.31*** -.31***
Living together, not married 430 3.97 (1.55) 3.57 (1.86) -.25* -.25*
Married or partner, not living together 368 3.64 (1.76) 3.27 (1.96) -.20 -.20
No steady partner 1323 1.79 (2.03) 1.72 (1.99) -.03 -.03
Children under 18 in household
No 16,645 2.62 (1.97) 2.79 (1.95) 2.69 (.199) 2.52 (1.99) 2.49 (1.97) -.07** -.15***
Yes (any age) 9776 3.59 (1.65) 3.55 (1.67) 3.55 (1.70) 3.51 (1.73) 3.34 (1.77) -.15*** -.15***
Under 6 4432 3.80 (1.54) 3.83 (1.48) 3.79 (1.57) 3.71 (1.64) 3.67 (1.63) -.08 -.10
Ages 6–12 4899 3.73 (1.54) 3.56 (1.63) 3.61 (1.69) 3.70 (1.71) 3.32 (1.76) -.26*** -.26***
Ages 13–17 4174 3.34 (1.75) 3.38 (1.79) 3.41 (1.76) 3.29 (1.82) 3.13 (1.81) -.12* -.16**
Work status
Full time 14,120 3.42 (1.70) 3.43 (1.70) 3.39 (1.78) 3.29 (1.83) 3.14 (1.80) -.16*** -.17***
Part time or not working 12,499 2.58 (2.01) 2.64 (2.01) 2.57 (2.01) 2.41 (1.99) 2.35 (2.00) -.11*** -.14***
Watched pornographic movie in last year
Yes 3999 3.74 (1.70) 3.59 (1.71) 3.62 (1.84) 3.46 (1.84) 3.47 (1.82) -.15*** -.15***
No 11,706 2.83 (1.89) 2.87 (1.90) 2.76 (1.92) 2.63 (1.95) 2.42 (1.93) -.22*** -.24***
SDs in parentheses
ddifference in standard deviations
*p\.05; ** p\.01; *** p\.001
Arch Sex Behav
123
Table2 Changes in sexual frequency(estimated times per year) amongAmerican adults, 1989–2014
n1989–1994 1995–1999 2000–2004 2005–2009 2010–2014 Changein estimated sex
acts per year (1st to last)
Change in estimated sex acts
per year (max)
All adults 26,620 60.35 62.36 62.03 58.05 53.71 -6.64 -8.65
Age groups (time-lag design =cohort?time period)
18–29 6050 81.29 83.60 86.60 81.30 78.50 -2.79 -8.10
30–39 5761 80.28 76.34 83.08 79.76 77.84 -2.44 -5.24
40–49 5497 62.79 65.66 63.34 65.62 63.22 .43 -2.44
50–59 4114 46.31 48.76 43.08 43.12 38.29 -8.02 -10.47
60–69 2742 27.01 28.78 26.55 26.64 25.03 -1.98 -3.75
Over 70 2455 9.68 10.66 13.13 9.00 10.88 1.20 -4.13
Gender
Men 12,212 64.76 66.48 68.20 62.22 58.92 -5.84 -9.28
Women 14,408 56.76 58.82 56.64 54.52 49.24 -7.52 -9.58
Race
White 21,386 59.61 62.12 59.85 54.70 51.67 -7.94 -8.18
Black 3264 66.44 60.07 71.75 68.98 60.22 -6.22 -11.53
Other 1970 58.94 69.79 69.85 70.42 59.57 .63 -10.85
Education
High schooldegreeor less 17,974 60.08 62.09 63.67 60.24 56.84 -3.24 -6.83
2-yearcollege degreeor more 8598 60.88 63.07 58.80 54.25 48.16 -12.72 -14.91
Region
East 4909 57.58 58.40 55.84 48.96 49.23 -8.35 -9.17
Midwest 6435 58.92 60.22 62.20 51.50 52.64 -7.42 -9.56
South 9357 61.97 64.23 66.19 60.55 52.76 -9.21 -13.43
West 5919 62.01 65.34 60.75 66.09 59.25 -2.76 -6.84
Maritalstatus
Married 14,885 67.31 68.84 66.85 61.45 55.96 -11.35 -10.89
Widowed 1554 8.37 17.40 10.91 8.03 10.19 1.82 -7.21
Divorced 3038 55.88 56.90 51.57 53.33 46.23 -9.65 -10.67
Nevermarried 6434 57.00 60.89 67.47 63.61 60.81 3.81 -6.66
Unmarried (all combined) 11,731 49.74 54.07 56.25 54.13 51.31 1.57 -4.94
Living situation
Married, living together 2276 – – 66.90 – 50.52 -16.38
Livingtogether, not married 430 – – 93.02 – 86.16 -6.86
Married or partner,not living together 368 – – 84.39 – 74.92 -9.47
No steady partner 1323 – – 36.87 – 32.97 -3.90
Children under18 in household
No 16,645 50.14 54.56 53.80 48.68 47.42 -2.72 -7.14
Yes (any age) 9776 74.92 74.19 75.65 75.84 69.54 -5.38 -6.30
Under6 4432 82.08 82.33 82.68 82.49 80.63 -1.45 -2.05
Ages 6–12 4899 78.48 73.16 77.65 81.85 69.08 -9.40 -12.77
Ages 13–17 4174 67.16 70.21 72.36 69.42 61.62 -5.54 -11.74
Work status
Full time 14,120 69.09 69.69 71.48 69.24 62.55 -6.54 -8.93
Part timeor not working 12,499 50.73 52.61 50.94 46.03 45.21 -5.52 -7.40
Watched pornographic movie in last year
Yes 3999 85.31 79.61 87.04 78.70 78.97 -6.34 -8.07
No 11,706 53.18 54.78 52.13 50.07 43.51 -9.67 -11.27
The figures for times peryear are estimated using ranges and thus arenot precise
Arch Sex Behav
123
than those who were married, those with minor children in the
household more than those without, and those who watched a
pornographic movie in the last year more than those who did not.
Trends in Sexual Frequency Controlled for Age, Race,
and Marital (or Living) Status
The bivariate correlation between year and sexual frequency was
r(26,620) =-.05, p\.001. Thus, sexual frequency declined over
the years in a linear fashion.
The average age of the GSS sample rose from 43.76 in 1989
to 47.46 in 2014, the percentage of married individuals declined
from 62 to 53%, and the percentage of participants who were
White declined from 86 to 74%. Thus, we also examined the
correlation between sexual frequency and year controlled for
age, marital status, and race. The negative correlation between
sexual frequency and year remained when controlled for age,
r(26,759) =-.03, p\.001, marital status (married vs. unmar-
ried),r(26,613) =-.04, p\.001, and race(White vs. Non-
White), r(26,617) =-.05, p\.001. A regression equation with
all three variables still yielded a significant effect for year,
Beta =-.02, p=.004. This suggested that shifts in age, marital
status, and race partially, but not fully, accounted for the decline in
sexual frequency.
In a limited number of years (2000, 2004, 2006, and 2014), the
GSS asked participants about their living situation (see Table 1).
Thus, we can also compare those with steady partners (whether
married or unmarried) to those without. The percentage with no
steady partner increased from 26% in 2006 to 33% in 2014.
During the four data collections when this question was asked, the
bivariate correlation between year and sexual frequency was
r(8,891) =-.06, p\.001. When controlled for age, race, and
having a steady partner (vs. not), r(4,387) =-.05, p=.001. Like
the results for marital status, this suggests that the decline in
sexualfrequency was partially,but not fully, dueto shifts in liv-
ing situations.
The GSS collects only limited data on the length of part-
nerships, but we were able to examine the effect of marriage
length in the subsample in intact first marriages (those who had
never been divorced, separated, or widowed). Those who had
been married for longer had sex less frequently, r(2730) =-.54,
p\.001, but this correlation dropped to non-significance after
age was controlled, r(2727) =.02. However, age was still sig-
nificantly correlated with sexual frequency after length of mar-
riagewascontrolled,r(2727) =-.23,p\.001.This suggests that
length of marriage (at least in this subsample) did not account for
the decline in sexual frequency as much as age did.
Trends in the Marital (and Partnered) Advantage
for Sexual Frequency
Married individuals in the 1990s had sex more times per year
than never married individuals, but by the mid-2000s never
married individuals had sex more times than the married (see
Table 2;Fig.2). This likely reflects fewer married individuals
having sex at a very high frequency, perhaps due to the rising age
Fig. 1 Estimated times per year
American adults had sex,
1989–2014
Arch Sex Behav
123
at first marriage (which was 23 for women in 1990 and is now
27; U.S. Census, 2016). Nevertheless, married individuals still
had sex with more consistency and thus still exhibited higher
sexual frequency on the 0–6 scale (see Table 1).
We also examined the trend in the correlation between marital
status and sexual frequency (weighting by n). That should reveal
whether the marital advantage in sexual frequency has shrunk or
disappeared. We found that the cor relation between marital status
(married vs. never married) and sexual frequency (estimated sex
acts per year) was positive (with married individuals having sex
more often than never married) during the 1990s, but, beginning
in 2004, was negative (with never married individuals having sex
more often), with the beta (df =13) between rand year =-.93,
p\.001 (see Fig. 3a). With age controlled, the correlation still
grew smaller by the year, but no longer shifted to negative,
beta =-.85, p\.001 (see Fig. 3b). For example, the correlation
between marital status (married vs. never married) and sexual
frequencyonthe06scalewasr=.23 in 1990 and r=.10 by
2014; controlled for age, it was r=.44in1990andr=.32 in
2014.Thecorrelation between marital status (marriedvs. not) and
sexual frequency (estimated times per year) was r=.36 in 1990
and .20 in 2014; controlled for age, it was r=.27 in 1990 and
r=.17 in 2014. Thus, the marital advantage for sexual frequency
has grown smaller over time.
We found a similar effect comparing those with a steady
partner and without (in the limited number of years this question
was asked): The correlation between sexual frequency and
having a steady partner (vs. not) declined from r=-.44 in 2000
to r=-.34 in 2014. Controlled for age, the correlation declined
from r=-.50 in 2000 to r=-.41 in 2014. Those with steady
partners still have sex more often than those without, but the
steady partner advantage in sexual frequency has shrunk. Thus,
as Tables 1and 2also show, the decline in sexual frequency is
more pronounced among the married and those with steady part-
ners and less pronounced among the never married and those
without steady partners.
We were able to test two other possible explanations for
lower sexual frequency in recent years: longer working hours
and the increased use of pornography (which might provide an
alternative sexual outlet). First, working hours among those
who were employed, r(17,191) =.08, p\.001, and pornogra-
phy use, r(15,705) =.20, p\.001, were both positively, not
negatively, correlated with sexual frequency. This was true even
when age was controlled, r(17,167) =.09, p\.001,for working
hours, and r(15,677) =.10, p\.001, for pornography use. In
addition, those who worked full time had sex more frequently
than those who worked part time or not at all (see Tables 1,2).
When matched by year, sexual frequency was higher in years
Fig. 2 Estimated times per year
American adults had sex, by
marital status, 1989–2014
Arch Sex Behav
123
witha higher average number of working hours and more pornog-
raphy use, though the correlations were not significant given the
lownumberofyears,r(13) =.40, and pornography use r(13) =
.33. Thus, it does not appear that the decline in sexual frequency
was due to longer working hours or to more people viewing
pornography. If anything, these factors were connected to higher
sexual frequency.
APC Analyses Separating Age, Period, and Cohort
We employed APC analysis to separate the effects of age, time
period, and cohort. This analysis revealed that the decline in
sexual frequency was primarily driven by cohort rather than
time period (SD for time period =1.13; SD for cohort =2.28).
1
For example, with age and time period controlled, Americans
born in the 1930s (the Silent generation) had sex approximately
63 times per year (the highest of any cohort) while those born in
the 1990s (late Millennials and early iGen) had sex approxi-
mately 57 times a year (the lowest of any cohort), d=-.32 (see
Fig. 4a, b). The cohort differences were fairly similar across
gender, race, region, and education level but were smaller for
those employed full time (d=-.09) compared to those who
were not employed or employed part time (d=-.37).
The cohort differences were smaller when examined sepa-
rately for married individuals (d=-.13 from the highest, Silent/
Boomer 1940s cohort to the lowest, GenX 1970s, cohort; there
were not enough married individuals in the 1990s-born cohort to
include them in the comparison). Similar to the descriptive anal-
yses (seeTable 1),thepattern of change for unmarriedindividuals
was inconsistent (see Fig. 5).
The lower effect sizes within marital status suggested that the
decline in the number of married individuals might be partially
behind the decline in sexual frequency. Thus, we conducted an
APC analysis controlled for marital status (married vs. unmar-
ried). This analysis revealed that more recent cohorts still had
sex less often, d=-.11 comparing those born in the 1930s
(Silent) versus the 1990s (Millennials/iGen). The reduction in
this effect size (from -.32 to -.11) suggests that approximately
two-thirds of the decline in sexual frequency was due to the
decline in the number who were married. The remainder seems
to be due to the decline in sexual frequency among married
individuals.
The APC analyses also revealed a striking decline in sexual
frequency with age when controlled for time period and cohort
(b
linear
=-.20, t=-31.55; b
quadratic
=-.02, t=-9.53, b
cubic
=
.0009, t=11.51). While those in their 20s had sex more than 80
times a year, this declined to about 60 times a year by 45 and 20
times a year by 65 (see Fig. 6a, b). For each year of age after the
peak in sexual frequency at 25, participants reported having sex
1.18 fewer times per year. Put another way, individuals over age
25 have sex 96.8% as often as the previous year (so with each year
of age after age 25, the number of sex acts per year declined by
3.2%).
Discussion
American adults reported having sex about nine times a year less
often in the 2010s than in the late 1990s. APC analyses sepa-
rating the effects of age, time period, and cohort suggest that the
(A)
(B)
Fig. 3 Trend in the correlation (r) between marital status (married vs. never
married) and sexual frequency (estimated times per year), abivariate and
bcontrolled for age
1
The APC analyses provided a unique opportunity to better understand the
anomalous 2012 data. If there was a coding issue as we suspected, the APC
analyses should show a large time period effect for 2012. As such, we also
conducted the APC analyses including the 2012 data. Consistent with the
idea of a coding error, analyses with the 2012 data demonstrated a sub-
Footnote 1 continued
stantially larger variance component for time period and a large time period
effect for 2012. Thus, we concluded that including the 2012 data would be
highly misleading and continued to exclude it from all other analyses.
Importantly, the pattern of cohort effects for the APC analysis was nearly
identical even with the 2012 data included. Thus, this anomaly had little
impact on the main APC results.
Arch Sex Behav
123
decline in sexual frequency over time is primarily a cohort
effect. The average American born in the 1990s (Millennials
and iGen) had sex about six times a year less often than the
average American born in the 1930s (Silent generation) when
age and time period are controlled. The declines were similar
across gender, race, region, and the presence of minor children
in the household.
Much of the decline in sexual frequency appears to be due to
the reduction in the number of individuals who are married. We
found, as others have (e.g., Michael et al., 1994), that married
individuals had sex more often than unmarried individuals. In
addition, the percentage of Americans who had a steady partner
(unmarried or married) decreased from 2006 to 2014, and those
with a steady partner had sex about twice as often as those
without partners. Furthermore, the decline in sexual frequency
was most pronounced among married individuals compared to
those with no steady partner. Thus, the ‘‘marriage advantage’
for sexual frequency shrunk over time. The results suggest that
Americans are having sex less frequently due to two factors: the
increasing number of individuals without a steady or marital
partner and a decline in sexual frequency among those with
partners (both married and unmarried).
Why was there a decline in sexual frequency among married
and partnered individuals? It does not appear to be due to longer
work hours or the greater use of pornography, both of which were
instead associated with higher sexual frequency. Other reasons
remain more plausible, although none can be thoroughly ex-
plored with the current data. These include those discussed in the
Introduction,including more optionsfor entertainment and social
communication (such as streaming video and social media) and
declines in happiness and increases in depression. In addition,
later childbearing may create a‘perfect storm’’for married cou-
Fig. 4 Cohort differences in
sexual frequency among
American adults, in APC analyses
controlling for age and time period,
a0–6 scale and bestimated times
per year
Arch Sex Behav
123
ples of having school-age children and being older, both of which
seem to decrease sexual frequency. The decline in sexual fre-
quency was larger among those with children aged 6–12, sug-
gesting that couples with children this age are more likely than
others to be having sex less often.
The marriage advantage for sexual frequency declined over
time;whilein previous decades married individuals had sexmore
often, by the mid-2000s never married individuals had sex more
often. This is partially due to the later age at first marriage in the
U.S.: More Americans are spending their 20s unmarried, while in
past decades they spent these years of higher sexual frequency
married. However, the decline in the marriage advantage for
sexual frequency still held when age was controlled, suggesting
that married individuals are having sex less frequently in recent
years regardless of age effects, while never married individuals
are having sex just as often as in past eras. The limited data on
living situations showed a similar trend, with declines larger
among those living with their (married or unmarried) partners
and little change among those with no steady partner. With never
married and unpartnered individuals having about the same
amount of sex and married and partnered individuals having less,
the partner adv antage for sexual freque ncy has declined. This
suggests that opportunities for sex for those without steady
partners have stayed about the same, while sex within steady
partnerships has become less frequent.
This decline in sexual frequency for married individuals has
occurred at the same time that happiness for adults over 30 has
declined (Twenge et al., 2016a). Though this corresponds with
research indicating that low sexual frequency is one of the most
common complaints among couples (Risch et al., 2003), other
research indicates that external requests to increase sexual fre-
quency (as advised by some self-help books or therapists) may
actually be associated with decreased happiness and sexual
enjoyment (Loewenstein, Krishnamurti, Kopsic, & McDonald,
2015). As such, understanding the root causes of decreased fre-
quency and considering discrepancy between ideal and actual
frequency would be more useful in designing therapeutic app-
roaches around low sexual frequency (when that low sexual fre-
quency is identified as a problem for the couple or individual).
We found that sexual frequency declined markedly with age,
peaking at over 80 times a year in the mid- to late-20s and declin-
ing to about 30 times a year by the mid-60s. Men reported having
sex more often than women; this could be due to a true difference
(perhaps partially due to same-sex sexual experience) or to a
greater bias toward reporting (vs. not reporting) sexual activity.
We also found that those who work full time have children in the
Fig. 5 Cohort differences in
sexual frequency among married,
unmarried, and all American
adults, 0–6 scale standardized, in
APC analyses controlling for age
and time period
Arch Sex Behav
123
household, and who watched a pornographic movie in the last
year had sex more frequently.
Limitations
Participants may interpret the phrase ‘had sex’ in a variety of
ways that may influence their response (Bersamin, Fisher,
Walker, Hill, & Grube, 2007).Whilesomemayusestrictde-
nitions of vaginal-penile intercourse to answer that question (and
perhaps not endorse this item if they engaged in anal but not
vaginal sex), others may interpret sex much more broadly and
respond affirmatively even if they have engaged in oral sex only.
Further, interpretations of this question may have changed over
time. It is possible that earlier generations counted any sexual
activity as sex, thus increasing their sexual frequency, whereas
younger generations may hold more strict definitions of sex
as including only vaginal-penile penetration. However, alter-
natives to vaginal intercourse such as oral sex were less common
behaviors in previous eras (e.g., Grunseit, Richters, Crawford,
Song, & Kippax, 2005), making this explanation less likely. If
anything, younger generations may be more likely to count oral
andanal sexual acts as having‘‘hadsex,’suggestingthat the
effect may be larger than reported here. For example, Peck et al.
(2016) found that more diverse samples (which younger gener-
ations are) are more likely to identify oral sex as sex.
Then there is the question of whether masturbation counts as
sex. Unfortunately, research examining construals of sex exam-
ined only mutual masturbation with a partner and not solo mas-
turbation. Given that only a small minority of people considered
even partnered masturbation to be sex(Randall & Byers, 2003), it
Fig. 6 Age differences in sexual
frequency among American
adults,in APC analyses controlling
for time period and cohort, a0–6
scale and bestimated times per
year
Arch Sex Behav
123
seems unlikely that many would consider solo masturbation to be
sex. As the GSS does not include any items explicitly about solo
masturbation, it is possible that participants are having just as
many orgasms, but more through masturbation to make up for the
decline in sex with a partner.
As the sample was nationally representative, the conclusions
are primarily applicable to heterosexuals, who made up 96% (by
identity) and 91% (by behavior) of the GSS sample as of 2014
(Twenge, Sherman, & Wells, 2016b). As this study included data
only from the USA, its conclusions are limited to trends in that
country and cannot be generalized to other nations.
Conclusions
American adults in the early 2010s report having sex about nine
fewer times a year than those in the late 1990s. Analyses sepa-
rating the effects of age, time period, and cohort suggest that this
trend is primarily due to cohort, with those born in the 1930s (the
Silent generation) having sex about six more times a year on
average than those born in the 1990s (Millennials and iGen).
Much of this decline is due to the lower marriage rate in recent
years, as married individuals have sex more consistently than
unmarried individuals (a similar trend appears for living toge-
ther). In addition, those with steady partners are having sex less
frequently. The decline in sexual frequency thus appears to be
rooted in twin trends: Americans with steady partners are both
fewer in number and have sex less often.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conictofinterest Jean M. Twenge declares that she has no conflict of
interest. Ryne A. Sherman declares that he has no conflict of inte rest. Brooke
E. Wells declares that she has no conflict of interest.
Ethical Approval This article does not contain any studies with human
participants or animals performed by any of the authors.
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Objectives: The objective of this study was to evaluate clinical practice of cardiac physicians in providing sexual counseling to cardiovascular diseases (CVD) patients and to identify possible barriers towards sexual health discussion. Discussion regarding sexual complications among patients with CVD is a less frequent clinical practice and various barriers, patient-related, system-related, and cultural factors that prevent cardiac physicians to remain silent on this important aspect. Methodology: In this study an online survey was conducted with practicing cardiac physicians at various cardiac centers of Pakistan regarding discussing sexual problems in CVD patients. Results: Out of 151 physicians 77.5% (117) were male and the mean age was 32.8±5.9 years. A 52.6% physicians and 49.7% newly diagnosed (≤3 months) CVD patients rarely or never discuss or report sexual issues, for old diagnosed (>3 months) patients these figures were 59.0% and 76.8% respectively. Only 40.4%, 41.1%, and 38.7%, of the physicians, claimed to have adequate knowledge, awareness, and confidence respectively about dealing with sexual problems. Commonly reported barriers were physicians personal attitudes and beliefs about sexuality (55.0%), the perception that it is someone else’s job (51.0%), sexuality not seen as a problem by the patient (48.3%), and the age difference between physicians and patients (40.4%). Conclusion: We observed poor practice, inadequate knowledge, and lack of awareness among cardiac physicians regarding discussing sexual health.
... This suggests that multidisciplinary follow up with a psychologist trained in sexual therapy, who could help address raised anxiety levels alongside other psychological consequences of the surgery, may be beneficial to aid recovery of post-operative sexual function. This may be especially important in younger individuals who typically selfreport a higher sexual frequency compared with older adults [45], and who may not have yet completed their family. ...
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... Approximately 50-60% of the adult population has intercourse in a month , consistent with the NVID sample. However, estimates of typical frequency of intercourse suggest approximately once per week (Twenge et al., 2017), or four times monthly, indicating both VID and NVID groups had intercourse at or above national average rates. Several factors could have inflated numbers in either group, including recall bias or self-selection of a more sex-positive study sample, though notably this research was conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic in which national studies found a decrease in sexual activity Lehmiller et al., 2021;Luetke et al., 2020). ...
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... Sexual behavior changes over time; in the United States, for instance, millennials and the subsequent Generation Z are less sexually active in adulthood than previous generations [38,39]. High school students had a linearly decreasing number of sexual partners between 1991 and 2015, while condom use has trended upwards during the same period [40]. ...
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Age-Period-Cohort Analysis: New Models, Methods, and Empirical Applications is based on a decade of the authors’ collaborative work in age-period-cohort (APC) analysis. Within a single, consistent HAPC-GLMM statistical modeling framework, the authors synthesize APC models and methods for three research designs: age-by-time period tables of population rates or proportions, repeated cross-section sample surveys, and accelerated longitudinal panel studies. The authors show how the empirical application of the models to various problems leads to many fascinating findings on how outcome variables develop along the age, period, and cohort dimensions. The book makes two essential contributions to quantitative studies of time-related change. Through the introduction of the GLMM framework, it shows how innovative estimation methods and new model specifications can be used to tackle the "model identification problem" that has hampered the development and empirical application of APC analysis. The book also addresses the major criticism against APC analysis by explaining the use of new models within the GLMM framework to uncover mechanisms underlying age patterns and temporal trends. Encompassing both methodological expositions and empirical studies, this book explores the ways in which statistical models, methods, and research designs can be used to open new possibilities for APC analysis. It compares new and existing models and methods and provides useful guidelines on how to conduct APC analysis. For empirical illustrations, the text incorporates examples from a variety of disciplines, such as sociology, demography, and epidemiology. Along with details on empirical analyses, software and programs to estimate the models are available on the book’s web page.
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Finding romance, love, and sexual intimacy is a central part of our life experience. Although people engage in romance in a variety of ways, alternatives to “the couple” are largely overlooked in relationship research. Scholars and the media have recently argued that the rules of romance are changing, suggesting that interest in consensual departures from monogamy may become popular as people navigate their long-term coupling. This study utilizes Google Trends to assess Americans’ interest in seeking out information related to consensual nonmonogamous relationships across a 10-year period (2006–2015). Using anonymous Web queries from hundreds of thousands of Google search engine users, results show that searches for words related to polyamory and open relationships (but not swinging) have significantly increased over time. Moreover, the magnitude of the correlation between consensual nonmonogamy Web queries and time was significantly higher than popular Web queries over the same time period, indicating this pattern of increased interest in polyamory and open relationships is unique. Future research avenues for incorporating consensual nonmonogamous relationships into relationship science are discussed.
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This article presents findings about problematic issues from a national study of couples married five years or less. It argues that the top 10 issues identified as problematic suggest key content areas for premarital education and makes suggestions for both program development and existing program evaluation. The top three issues reported by this sample are balancing job and family, frequency of sexual relations, and financial issues. For each of the 10 issues, comparisons by gender, parental status, cohabitation status, and age are also reported.
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In this study 164 heterosexual Canadian university students were asked about their definitions of the terms having sex, sexual partner, and unfaithful. Students were asked to indicate which from a list of 18 sexual behaviours they would include in their definition of each of the three terms. Significantly more behaviours were included in students' unfaithful definition than were included in the sexual partner definition and significantly more behaviours were included in the sexual partner definition than in the having sex definition. For example, while less than 25% of participants considered oral genital behaviour to be having sex, more than 60% thought that the giver or receiver of oral sex was a sexual partner, and more than 97% considered a partner who had oral sex with someone else to be have been unfaithful. Similarly, while masturbating to orgasm in the presence of another was considered to be having sex by less than 4% of participants, 34% reported that this behaviour was sufficient to consider that person a sexual partner and 95% considered it to be unfaithful. Students were more likely to include a behaviour in their definitions if orgasm occurred than if orgasm did not occur. There were no significant gender differences. Multiple regression analyses revealed that older and less sexually experienced students reported a broader definition of sexual partner than did younger and more sexually experienced students. The implications of these findings for sex research and sexual health promotion are discussed.
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In the last several decades, pornography in the United States has become more mainstream, more accessible, more phallocentric, and more degrading to women. Furthermore, consumption of pornography remains a major difference in the sexual experiences of men and women. Yet research has not addressed how opposition to pornography has changed over the period, despite shifts in the accessibility and visibility of pornography as well as new cultural and legal issues presented by the advent of Internet pornography. We examine gender differences in opposition to pornography from 1975 to 2012, measured by support for legal censorship of pornography in the General Social Survey. Results show that both men’s and women’s opposition to pornography have decreased significantly over the past 40 years, suggesting a cultural shift toward “pornographication” affecting attitudes. However, women remain more opposed to pornography than men, and men’s opposition has declined faster, so the gender gap in opposition to pornography has widened, indicating further divergence of men’s and women’s sexual attitudes over time. This is consistent with the increasingly normative nature of pornography consumption for men, increases over time in men’s actual consumption of pornography, and its increasingly degrading depiction of women.