The article that slid across my desk this week was “The Young are Having Less Sex, More STDs” by Jo Craven McGinty in the Wall Street Journal.
Lunch made a snarky comment about my generation not getting laid and then handed it to me knowing that I would have no idea how to write about it.
The first thing I did was text the article to my friends from back home to gauge their reaction. At first, everyone thought it was clickbait and not accurate, but as the discussion proceeded, we started to think the news headline might be true.
“Porn is free and there’s so much that’s free that I could see kids cucking themselves. Also, people tend to live with their parents for much longer now which definitely doesn’t help.” read a text from my friend Nik.
According to a study by Columbia University, 87% of males and 28.5% of females aged 18-35 watch porn at least once a week. The same study found that 4% of all websites were dedicated to porn, while 13% of web searches and 20% of mobile searches are looking for adult content.
In regard to people living with their parents longer, a Pew Research Center study published in 2018 shows that 33% of adults aged 25-29 live with their parents or grandparents. For comparison, in 1970 that number was between 11-12%.
After that text was sent, my buddy Eli who still lives with his parents said, “Can confirm, living with your parents doesn’t help your sex life.”
So there you have it.
Later on in the chat, my friend at Ohio State, named Samuel said, “Now that there are more devices for contraception, like the pill and IUD’s, birth control is more of a norm which could explain why condom usage is falling off.”
Then my friend at the University of Oregon, also a Zach, said “People ain’t using rubbers anymore, that’s for sure.”
Then Nik said, “I mean if they’re willing to have unprotected sex the first time they meet me where else have they been?”
A couple minutes later he continued, “Or where else have I been for that matter?”
The banter brings up some interesting data points. In 2018 the National Center for Health Statistics published a study on “contraceptive status among women aged 15-49” and found that 64.9% of the 72.2 million women studied were currently using contraception. Female sterilization (tubes tied) was the most common contraceptive (18.6% of females), followed by the pill (12.6%), long-acting reversible contraceptives (IUD’s, and hormone altering devices) (10.3%) and finally last but not least: a condom (8.7%).
IUD usage jumped from 0.8% in 1995 to 7.2% in the period between 2006-2014.
Birth control pills, first used in the United States in the 1960s, is a mainstream part of culture and more than 50% of women under 25 use the pill according to the same study.
A study in 1999 conducted by Guttmacher institute reads, “overall condom use has increased substantially over the past decade,” but “condom use overall is substantially less than that needed to protect women and men against sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV). Moreover, steps need to be taken to understand why levels of dual method use are low and how they may be increased.”
Condom usage is up, but dual method use are low. People think if they are on the pill they don’t need a condom (can confirm that people, aka me, believe this).
If dual method uses are lower due to the rise of IUD’s and birth control then young people are abandoning condoms leaving them prone to STD’s.
There is also the seemingly contradictory evidence that young people are having more sex. For this I decided my sex-crazed college friends were inadequate as a source because none of them would ever admit to not getting laid. So I emailed an anthropology professor to see what the academic community would say about this.
She decided not to be named in my personal sex research, but said “I’ve seen a lot of these types of articles pop up in the news lately, mostly from psychology or sociology studies. I always recommend finding the original research article that the news sources are quoting from. Occasionally in science news, they latch on to one or two ideas from the original research and sensationalize them.”
They were telling me to take sexual research posted in a newspaper with a grain of salt.
Anyways I found the original story and followed the paper trail to the research on young people having sex. It is called the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey and they have data spanning back to 1991.
The first thing that stuck out was condom usage went from 46.2% in 1991 to 63% in 2003 and since then it has dropped to 56.9% as of 2015.
Lots of noise in that statistic but regardless of the reasons, young people are using condoms less.
Young people in grades 9-12 are indeed having less sex than before. In 1991, 54.1% of high schoolers reported having sexual intercourse at least one time. In 2015, that number was 41.2%.
After a ton of research into why young people are having less sex, it remains unclear, but the internet seems to be the culprit.
Porn was a consistent explanation as certain entities believe porn can unhealthily replace sex drives of young people. 12 year olds nowadays can find billions of hours of porn at their fingertips; no need for Playboy. And this accessibility can lead, interestingly, to mental roadblocks and hangups when it comes to making love.
Another explanation was the internet drastically changing the landscape of dating. Apps like Tinder and Bumble are leading to a “hookup culture” that ends up isolating the user. Dating is not the goal of the youth and it has been replaced by “trying to get laid.”
Ironically, the impact has been the opposite, and people are getting laid less.
Personally, I believe that kids nowadays spend more time developing an online persona than they do developing a personality. Kids are awkward, social media apps make them feel lonely, and it spirals into high schoolers and undergrads who don’t have the ability to converse with each other. But I also believe that this is temporary and humanity’s need for social interaction will prove more important than the iPhone.
We are in the infancy stage of the internet and how much culture and society is affected is unclear. Hiccups along the way are understandable.