(Why you should care and 3 actions steps to help yourself)
Just as we’re learning that satisfying and frequent sex is as beneficial for your health—especially your brain—as veggies and exercise, science is now showing that Americans are doing “it” less.
I remember a line from the comedy “Bun Heads” where a dancer from the east coast is in L.A. trying to make it big. She’s on the phone with her friends back home, who ask, “What’s it like in L.A.?”
She complains, “Nobody eats carbs any more!”
Well, now there’s a similar trend with sex.
Three prestigious research groups assessed how often Americans are in search of the big “O.” The Department of Psychology at San Diego State University, the Department of Psychology from Florida Atlantic University, along with the Center for Human Sexuality Studies at Widener University joined forces to analyze intimacy frequency data from the General Survey of approximately 26,000 U.S. adults from 1989 to 2014.
This research, published in the prestigious Archives of Sexual Behavior (March 2017), tracked that Americans were having sex nine times a year less in the early 2010s compared to how often adults did “it” in the previous decade. This decline in sexual frequency (how often we do it) was found to be similar across gender, race, region, educational level, and work status. It was “age” that was the most significant link to how often adults are doing the deed. About now you might be whispering to yourself that’s it’s most likely the younger adults who are doing it more often while the older ones are relaxing in their recliners in front of the TV. Wrong! It was seniors in their seventies (those born in the 1930s and early 1940s, called the Silent Generation), who were having sex the most often. Maybe they’re called the silent generation because they are so busy kissing?
In comparison, 20-year-olds born in the 1990s (called Millennials and iGen) were documented as having sex the least often (at least compared to adults their age in the previous decade). Using statistical techniques, the researchers proved this decline was not linked to being exhausted from working longer hours or being anesthetized by porn, making real faces and bodies not as appealing.
One of heads of this investigation, Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of Generation Me, said the reason people are making love less is that fewer people have steady partners, and even people who do have steady partners are still having less sex. Couples married or living together had sex 16 times less a year than those in the previous decade.
After researching my latest book, which explains the health benefits of connection, here’s why I think people are doing it less:
- There’s more singles who are more picky. It used to be that you grew up, got a job, and got married. But times have changed. Despite online dating and more mingling on social media, there are now more singles than married folk. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has been tracking “married” versus “single” since 1976. All the way up until 2013, the percentage of single adults always remained below the 50% mark, but now marriage rates are declining while single rates are rising. This substantiated reverse occurred in 2014, when singles first accounted for 50.2 percent of American adults over 16 years of age.
Why this trend of more singles? A number of factors converge to produce this perfect storm:
- It’s become more “okay” to be single.
- More women make their own money and don’t need a man for financial support.
- More people are pursuing their “soul mate” and are unwilling to “settle.”
- With social media and online dating sites, people have enormously expanded choices. This makes people less willing to accept flaws in another person; after all, the perfect person may be just around the corner. Unfortunately, even soul mates have flaws.
- American adolescence is extending into young adulthood. It’s expensive to live out in the world on your own, and more young adults opt to live at home longer, spend more time figuring out their future work, and take more time to just “grow up”— all of which translates into postponing tying the knot.
- Texting and emailing are the new talking.
We seem to be more social, but we are actually more anti-social. We have a flurry of social media, and reach out to hundreds if not thousands of more people. But they are distant. You tend to present a better you to this unknown public. And you communicate on your computer or on your phone, where you can edit, delete, multi-task, or turn the machines off.
In contrast, getting together in the “wild,” eye-to-eye and belly-to-belly, is much messier. You can’t control it. You don’t know where the conversation will take you. You have to commit to looking at the other person instead of your phone. Old-fashioned talking takes more energy and presents more risks. But voice inflection and facial expressions in conversation are a better bridge builder between two human beings. It’s much more connected and much less isolating.
Social media, for all its outreach, can be very lonely.
Six departments of The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, coupled with the Center for Research on Media, studied this issue. I love it when the title of a study says it all: “Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the U.S.” It was published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine (February 2017). They surveyed 1,787 US adults, aged 17 to 32 years, and looked at how much time they spent on social media and how they perceived themselves as connected or isolated. They looked at 11 social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat, and Reddit) and then measured perceived social isolation compared to time spent on line.
The results were wild. Those who spent the most time on social media had two to three times greater risk of seeing themselves as isolated and lonely. No matter how much they smiled at those around them or were married or busy, or had hundreds or thousands of friends on their FB pages, deep inside they felt or perceived themselves as alone. Perceived social isolation is serious. It’s linked to much poorer quality of life, earlier death, and greater risk of serious illness.
Connection is a human birthright. When we feel connected and seen, beneficial molecules and hormones are released that protect our brain, immune system, and overall health. The Longevity Project was the longest human study ever run. Presently in it’s eighth decade, it looked at what factors contribute to a long life. It turned out that being part of a community, feeling “seen,” and feeling “part of” were more important than exercise or food choices.
The more we text and email but don’t communicate in person, the less able we are to connect face to face. We get good at what we practice. By texting and emailing, we practice communicating without full attention to the other. We are not totally available. We multi-task, text and email at the same time; we look at the phone while watching the TV; we don’t have to commit to being here with the other. Building emotional connecting bridges takes eye contact, listening, co-creating conversation, facial responses, and trust that the conversation will go somewhere worthwhile. We don’t know what the other person will say, how they will respond, or where real conversations might take the both of you.
- We are addicted to multi-tasking and not into committing to each other.
A poll—the 2013 Mobile Consumer Habit survey—was conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of a company called Jumio (June 13-17, 2013). It surveyed 1,102 adults who owned smartphones and were 18 years or older. One out of ten of these people admitted to using their smart phones while they were having sex. Were they using the phone as part of the act or were they texting each other while hugging or what? Twelve percent of people admitted or perceived that their smartphone got in the way of their relationships.
Focusing so much on our smart phones makes us less capable of fully focusing on someone else. Connection is about getting out of your head and into each other. True authentic connection releases hormones and chemicals that nature intended as the healthy glue to hold your relationships together. But if we can’t fully focus on each other even in bed, these benefits may be minimized.
- Today’s toxic environment is storming your bedroom. Today’s toxic environment has thrown open your doors and entered where you do “it”. Here’s how. Our hormones are not just about sexy and reproductive things. They are a major signaling system throughout your body that helps you stay healthy and be all that you can be. Hormones deliver signals that send messages to your genes, telling them to turn on or off. These signals affect your brain, gut, immune system, kidneys, vocal chords and on and on. They are not merely signaling your breasts or testicles.
Nature set up hormone signals to be very powerful in infinitesimally small amounts of parts per billion or trillion. Today there are many chemicals in everyday food, personal care products, out-gassing from laminate floors, from stain on your cabinets, pesticides sprayed on your food, in your lipsticks, make-up, and on and on, that act like fake hormones. They accumulate in sufficient amounts to block your own hormones from working well and sending appropriate signals. Harvard’s School of Public Health, at a public forum presented on January 1st 2017, called these everyday pollutants “hormone-altering chemicals.” They alter our natural internal hormones so we feel more apathetic about connection or have less ability to connect if and when we want to. That’s why I am introducing the concept of “environmental castration,” and trying to show you why you want to protect yourself, your intimacy, and your human connections.
Here are three small ways to practice connection and undo the shadow side of electronic communication:
- Next time you speak with someone you hope to be close with, put your phone away and focus on them.
- Next time you make love, don’t keep the phone in bed with you.
- At least once a day have a full-on, face-to-face conversation. Look the person in the eye, listen to what they are saying, and try to feel what they are feeling. Practice committing to being totally in that conversation. After a week or two, notice the difference this practice makes in your life.
Remember, more sex, less text.
- Declines in Sexual Frequency among American Adults 1989-2014. Arch Sex Behav. 2017 Mar 6. doi: 10.1007/s10508-017-0953-1. Twenge JM, Sherman RA, Wells BE.
- Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the U.S. Am J Prev Med. 2017 Feb 24. pii: S0749-3797(17)30016-8. Primack BA, Shensa A, Sidani JE, Whaite EO, Lin LY, Rosen D, Colditz JB, Radovic A, Miller E.
- Longevity Project, Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin 2011 Hudson St. Press
- 2013 Mobile consumer Habits Study run by Harris Interactive and published by Jumio 2013
- Hormone Altering Chemicals, Harvard School of Public Health, January 31st https://theforum.sph.harvard.edu/events/hormone-altering-chemicals/
- See SEXY BRAIN by DL Berkson (Awakened Medicine Press 2017)