Fewer young men are having sex than ever before, if you can believe it, with the sexless trend for men under 30 tripling in the last 10 years. What’s going on here? Jean Twenge, sociologist and author of the book, iGen, points to a “face-to-face social interaction recession” to explain this “sex recession.” Read our conversation below for more…
Katie Couric: We know there’s a loneliness epidemic happening right now, particularly among young people – is this drop-off in sex just one symptom of a larger sense of isolation?
Jean Twenge: Yes. Young people are spending much less time with their friends in person than they did just 10 years ago. iGen (those born after 1995) is hanging out with friends, going out, and dating less often than previous generations did at the same age. Perhaps as a result, feelings of loneliness skyrocketed between 2012 and 2017 among 13- to 18-year-olds.
You make the connection between the trend toward “partnering up” later in life and this decreased sexual activity — what’s your theory?
Married people have more sex than unmarried people, so as marriage and even living together becomes less common among people in their 20s, it makes sense that sexual activity would decline in this age group.
What are your thoughts on the gender divide that the data reveals?
It’s hard to say, but it could be that a growing number of men are being “frozen out” of the dating pool. Due to online dating apps or some other reason, perhaps one group of men is having more sex while another group is having less.
What have you found that young people themselves feel about their increasingly isolated existences — do they seem to be trying to find ways to create connections or correct the situation somehow?
Many young people I talked to for the book were aware that their social lives were different than their parents’ were when they were young – but they felt powerless to do much about it. Even if they want to go out, how can they if their friends are all alone in their bedrooms on Instagram? This isn’t just an individual issue – it’s a generational one.
What part is technology playing in all this? Have we really reached a point where video games and Netflix are more appealing to young men than sex?
I don’t think games and Netflix are necessarily more appealing than sex. However, the rise of technology has meant there are more ways to entertain yourself at 10pm than there used to be. Staying home by yourself isn’t as boring as it once was.
You’ve done a tremendous amount of research to understand the most recently emerging generation, Gen Z or iGen as you’ve called them — what differentiates them most clearly from Millennials or Gen X?
Millennials were and are a very optimistic and self-confident generation, and iGen is not. Their expectations are not as high, and they are not as happy or self-assured. In addition, rates of depression, anxiety, and loneliness have skyrocketed among the young. At the same time, they are more practical and down-to-earth than Millennials were as teens and young adults, with a strong work ethic. They are driven to succeed, but afraid they won’t.
I was struck by something you said, “We are programmed to respond to other people in real time by looking at each other’s faces, by being able to touch each other and smell each other. Digital media interaction is missing a lot of those elements.” Are you hopeful that young people can regain this vital human interaction in their lives? What do you expect to be the effects if this trend continues to worsen?
There’s not just a “sex recession” — there’s a “face-to-face social interaction recession.” If digital interaction was just as good for mental health and social skills as face-to-face interaction, that might be OK. But it’s not as good, and we are experiencing the results. I know that iGen recognizes these changes, and I hope many will start to do something about it. With their drive, energy, and quick minds, they have the potential to turn this trend around if they want to.