Except in the bedroom, sex is everywhere in America.
In America, sex is everywhere except in the bedroom — or anywhere else you'd like it to be. This has been going on for so long that it has a name: Kate Julian coined the term "sex recession" in a 2017 essay for the Atlantic. "American adults had sex around nine fewer times per year in the early 2010s compared to the late 1990s," according to the study she references.
Nine times fewer a year might not seem so bad, but every other marker of sexual activity was also down. A 2018 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that sexual activity had dropped among men between eighteen and thirty-five and women between twenty-four and thirty-five. Young people were having fewer sexual interactions and also fewer partners. They were having less sex when they were single and less sex when they were coupled. Men or women, no one was doing it with anyone. Those in their early twenties were two and a half times as likely to be abstinent as Gen Xers had been at that age. Fifteen percent reported having had no sex since reaching adulthood.
There has been a change. Sex-frantic teenagers aren't as crazed as they once were. The epidemic merely added to the country's sexlessness. During the lockdowns, cohabiting couples actually masturbated more and had less sex with each other, according to a recent research. The lockdowns were certainly stressful. There was a scarcity of toilet paper. There were no children in school. People were concerned about their employment prospects. There's no need to pound them out like a schizophrenic monkey. Man, come on!
What if the issue isn't so much what takes place in the bedroom as it is what takes place on the way there? Recently, life has been anything but enticing. Your garden party is being disrupted by a nosy neighbor who has called the cops. A mask covered half of everyone's face. Everyone is consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, lounging in their jammies all day, and putting on the "quarantine fifteen."
The sexiness is also being lowered as a result of social developments. "Fifty-seven genders" is exclusively appealing to teenagers. When an adult learns that someone is a pan-bi-trans-nonbinary-femme, they will tune out and go on Pornhub to find something more logical. Of course, the usage of pornography is on the rise. People may not want to have actual sex, but they aren't willing to give up their porn.
It’s a new world. Click, click, relief: far easier than making it work in the new normal, whatever that is this month. Sexy is so old-fashioned. In June, Victoria’s Secret announced they’ll be phasing out their impossibly gorgeous and fit “Angels.” Instead, they’ll be going with “leading icons” and “changemakers” including the soccer star Megan Rapinoe, the transgender model Valentina Sampaio, the plus-size model Paloma Elsesser and the seventeen-year-old skier Eileen Gu. These new icons won’t be posing in lingerie but sharing their inspirational stories in a ten-episode podcast. So hot.
Clothing too has become unsexy. Little House on the Prairie chic was big last spring. Now we’re back to the two-sizes-too-big outfits. No one wants to take those ugly clothes off someone. Just call me when you get home and we’ll do it on FaceTime so I don’t have to see that sack on my floor.
Then there's social media's "look at me, don't look at me" aspect. Women pose provocatively in full makeup and tight clothing, yet all they get are a row of fire emojis from their companions. A creep is a man who brags about how attractive she is. "Sliding into her DMs" means sending her a private message. Men are meant to disregard how women appear, which has always been a struggle given that men have initiated battles over women's attractiveness. Women are meant to want them to be unconcerned with how we look, but we don't: why would we want that?
There’s the question of whether something men used to do with some regularity — say, lean in for a kiss with a woman without asking — is now something sinister. Huma Abedin, best known for standing by her man Anthony Weiner again and again as he exposed himself to random women on the internet, has a book coming out in which she tells the story of being “sexually assaulted” by a US senator. She says that she left a party with him, they went for a walk and she accompanied him upstairs for coffee. Upstairs, he tries to kiss her, she says no and he stops.
When I tweeted that this was clearly not assault, several responses said he should have asked her permission. Could there be anything more mood-sapping than someone asking for formal permission to kiss you? This isn’t a British period drama. Even Mr. Darcy has probably stopped asking by now.
Men and women alike don't know who they're meant to be any longer. Is enjoying male attention anti-feminist? Is it OK to ask a colleague out? It's no surprise that people are opting out of sex because everything is so stressful and challenging. Who wants to deal with the hassle? They'll get their dopamine fix from likes on their postings and as much internet porn as they can stomach. Why bother with human engagement in the first place? When life isn't sexy, you get sex that isn't sexy – or none at all.