Young adults are having less casual sex, or sex outside of committed relationships. While sexual activity has decreased for some adults, the drop in sexual activity is even greater among teenagers and young adults. According to previous studies, 15% of young adults (ages 20-24) did not have sex in the past year between 2010-2014, compared to 12% in the early 2000s. Why?
Speculations abound about why young people are having less sex. In their new study, Scott J. South and Lei Lei try to answer some of these lingering questions. They look at changes in self-reported sexual activity among single young men and women (ages 18-23), after statistically adjusting for the effects of race, educational status, religiosity, and health. Using nationally representative survey data from 2007-2017, they investigate some possible reasons for this decline: alcohol consumption, employment, financial debt, living with parents, and the use of different media.For both single young men and women, a decrease in alcohol consumption explains some of the decline in sexual activity. Previous research has found that alcohol consumption, in general, is a strong predictor of sexual activity. For young men only, the researchers found that an increase in computer gaming and living with parents also contributed to the decline in sexual activity. These findings support previous research that living arrangements and use of media may influence sexual activity among young adults. Interestingly, they find no significant trends related to financial burdens, internet use, or television viewing. This study only includes people who identify as women or men, so this research cannot speak to the experiences of other gender identities.
These findings offer insight into only some of the reasons for declines in sexual activity, which occurred against a backdrop of shifting social understanding of gender identity, the meaning of casual sex, and the #MeToo movement. Overall, this research helps show how both life choices and a changing social environment have contributed to reductions in casual sex among many young adults today.