According to a new study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, there have been decreases in all modes of partnered sex from 2009 to 2019 for both adults and adolescents. Further, solo masturbation has been decreasing among adolescents.
Various studies from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, and Japan have revealed a declining trend of partnered sexual activity over time. This trend has alarmed many researchers, given it may be a reflection of some unpleasant truths, including the influence of environmental factors on hormone levels, the effect of social media platforms on people, and changes to human connection and intimacy.
Some interpretations suggest these shifts may be a product of changes in sexual repertoire – as in, increased quality of sex in the presence of decreased frequency. Thus, this work considers the diversity of people’s sexual behaviors throughout the course of a year, and spans a decade, assessing changes in specific sexual behaviors over time.
Debby Herbenick and colleagues used data from the 2009 (4,155 participants) and 2018 (4,547 participants) waves of the United States’ National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, a nationally representative online survey. Participants included both adolescents (ages 14-17) and adults (ages 18-49). Initiated in 2009, the survey had six subsequent data collection waves between 2012 and 2018.
Participants provided demographic information, including age, gender, race/ethnicity, marital status, income, education, and employment status. They responded to various questions regarding frequency of penile-vaginal intercourse (response options ranging from ‘not at all’ to ‘daily’), and sexual repertoire (such as, recency of solo masturbation, partnered masturbation, oral sex; response options ranging from ‘never’ to ‘in the past 30 days’).
The researchers found that adult participants in the 2018 wave were more likely to report no penile-vaginal intercourse in the prior year (28% in 2018 vs. 24% in 2009); this was similar for adolescents (89% in 2018 vs. 79% in 2009). Further, for both adults and adolescents, all modes of partnered sex showed decreases. This was also the case for solo masturbation among adolescents.
Using detailed measures of sexual behaviors allowed the researchers to examine whether the declines in coital frequency may be explained by increases in non-coital behaviors; the data appears to suggest this explanation does not account for the observed trend.
These findings are consistent with studies from numerous countries documenting declines in sexual frequency.
One limitation the authors note is the age range of participants (i.e., ages 14-49); thus, the sexual behavior trends among individuals age 50 and over are unaccounted for. Further, the sample only included heterosexual individuals, as such, these results may not generalize to queer populations. Lastly, in both waves, frequency of sex responses were only obtained for penile-vaginal intercourse (as opposed to for all other sexual behaviors queried as well).
The study, “Changes in Penile‑Vaginal Intercourse Frequency and Sexual Repertoire from 2009 to 2018: Findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior”, was authored by Debby Herbenick, Molly Rosenberg, Lilian Golzarri‑Arroyo, J. Dennis Fortenberry, and Tsung‑chieh Fu.