Americans talk a lot about sex. Anyone would think they’re having a lot of it.
After all, some behaviors our society used to affirm without question—getting married, staying faithful, even going to church—all seem like they’d put a damper on an exciting romantic life. And the behaviors now espoused—free sex, with anyone, at any time (as long as there’s consent)—seem like they’d lead to nonstop, uninhibited hookups.
Instead, the opposite has happened. Young people are having less sex—and are less happy—than the married, churchgoing generation before them.
Young people are having less sex—and are less happy—than the married, churchgoing generation before them.
“The United States is in the middle of a ‘sex recession,’” The Atlantic observed. “Nowhere has this sex recession proved more consequential than among young adults, especially young men.”
In 2018, the number of American adults who said they hadn’t had sex in the past year rose to an all-time high of 23 percent. (Imagine what that number looked like in 2020.) The demographic having the least sex is, predictably, those older than 60. But those having the second-least amount of sex are 18 to 29. Today’s young people are having significantly less sex than their parents are.
Our movies and media lead us to expect that movie-like sex happens spontaneously, after a few drinks with an attractive partner picked on a dating app. But the relaxed nature of the hookup culture, which is supposed to make casual sex easier, ends up muting it altogether. Turns out, people like to have sex with people they like. (Whoever would have thought?) Sharing intimacy casually with a near-stranger doesn’t feel safe or enjoyable—or (we’d add) honorable.
The relaxed nature of the hookup culture, which is supposed to make casual sex easier, ends up muting it altogether.
Of the 20,000 college students surveyed by the Online College Social Life Survey from 2005 to 2011, the median number of hookups over four years was only five—and a majority of students said they wished they had more chances to get into a long-term relationship.
Further, it will likely not surprise you that sex primarily learned by watching porn and practiced only sporadically through hookups is not good sex. “If you are a young woman,” one sex researcher told an Atlantic reporter, “and you’re having sex and somebody tries to choke you, I just don’t know if you’d want to go back for more right away.” Only a third of men—and just 11 percent of women—achieve orgasm with a new partner. (By contrast, 84 percent of men and 67 percent of women in a relationship said they reached orgasm in their last sexual encounter.)
It’s no wonder, then, that rates of masturbation—easily facilitated by porn and allowing people to skip the mess of relationships—are skyrocketing. From 1992 to 2014, the number of American women who reported masturbating in any given week tripled (to 26 percent), and the number of men doubled (to 54 percent). This uptick in reporting and downtick in actual relationships doesn’t bode well for long-term satisfaction.
In practice, modern sexual freedom doesn’t actually look like beautiful men and women finding passion with multiple partners. It looks like regular people swiping on Tinder, trying to find someone who will share an awkward conversation before shedding his or her clothes for some uncomfortable coupling—or opting to stay home with a laptop and a vibrator.
- They aren’t married. (Married young people are 75 percent more likely to report that they are very happy.)
- They aren’t going to church. (Young people who go to church more than once a month are 40 percent more likely to say they are very happy than nonreligious peers.)
- And they aren’t having sex. (Weekly sex makes young people 35 percent more likely to report that they are very happy than those who aren’t having sex.)
So, how do all these trends connect? Historically, young people often found their spouses in church, where they find support for marriages. And married people have more sex. And regular sex with a person you love makes you happier.
“Thus, while most of the decline in happiness is about declining sex, that’s not the end of the story,” Wilcox and Stone wrote. “Declining sex is at least partly about family and religious changes that make it harder for people to achieve stable, coupled life at a young age.”
So, here’s the secret: On the one hand, gospelbound Christians value sex more than our culture does—so much that we don’t just give it away. For single Christians, that means refraining altogether. For married Christians, that means limiting sex to your spouse inside the bounds of marriage.
On the other hand, gospelbound Christians value sex less than our culture does. We reject the increasingly common view that unless you’re having sex the way you want it, you’re living an unfulfilled life. A celibate gospelbound Christian is living just as much of a fulfilling, exciting, interesting, and meaningful life as a married, sexually active gospelbound Christian is.
We reject the increasingly common view that unless you’re having sex the way you want it, you’re living an unfulfilled life.
“To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am,” Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:8. Those aren’t the words of a bitter single man. They come from a gospel-centered, Spirit-filled leader whose letters show him to be productive, joyful, and honorable.
Our sex lives shouldn’t be about us. They should be about glorifying God. Because only in obedience to God is where you will find real fulfillment and meaning.