All The Sex We Aren’t Having

So, according to a bunch of recent stats, we (people born after 1981, sometimes referred to as ‘millennials’) are having less sex than our parents. Particularly if we are living in Japan, where various studies say that 45% of women aged 16-24 were not interested in sexual contact, a third of under 30s had never dated at all and 61% of men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship. Younger people are supposedly fucking less in New Zealand too, with a 2012 Auckland University study showing that 1 in 4 secondary school students are sexually active (down from 1 in 3 in 2007) and that teen pregnancies have dropped by 20% since 2001.

There are a lot of think-pieces and articles written about this (try Googling “young people not having sex”), so here’s my summary of the main arguments, finished with my own slant: why are people so concerned about how much sex we’re having?!

Neoliberalism kills libido
Millennials live far more precarious lives than the previous generation, thanks to neoliberalism (am I really going to start blaming the neoliberal agenda for a downturn in the amount of fucking that’s going on? Yes, yes I am).

Here’s my argument. Neoliberalism embraces individualism, privatization, ‘the market’ and capitalism. Neoliberalism leads to increased competition, less collectivism, less money/time/security, increased social anxiety, increased ego-casting. We’re working more, earning less and feeling a whole lot less secure about our futures. We’re competing more with each other, in a fight to the top, to gain access limited resources. Things are finite: money, time, space, opportunities. It’s impossible to have both in a country that traditionally values men as breadwinners and women as stay-at-home parents, and holds conservative opinions towards casual sex.

None of these things mesh well with sex. Sex takes time, presence, connection and relaxation. Good sex requires attunement with your body, and the ability to slow down. Sex is collaborative, the opposite of creating a personal brand.

Our self-involvement knows no bounds: we’d rather masturbate than partner
It takes less than 10 seconds to open an internet tab and access free, high quality, outrageous porn that satisfies anyone’s erotic niche. Internet and technology has meant that, compared to our previous generations, we can quickly find stimuli and get off without having to leave our house (or likely, our parent’s house, another side effect of being a millennial).

There’s some serious new technology – sex robots comes to mind – and concerns are rising that people will prefer fucking robots over each other. Yup, some might. (If you’re interested in wading into the fascinating world of sex robots and ethics, Responsible Robotics is a good place to start). Commentators are following the rise of virtual reality porn, musing whether young people escape into a VR world as a way to find personal space in an overcrowded cities. I don’t believe porn, sex tech and toys will replace the flesh connection of person to person sex, but I do believe that this will contribute to a smaller number of people seeking out sexual partners IRL.

We decide what sex is
What is sex? In much of the research, sex is still classified as a heteronormative act, inserting a penis into a vagina. Queer sex is totally ignored. I argue that sex is so much more, and means many different things to different people. Millennials have more nuanced language to describe what we’re doing and we’re adept at defining sex as whatever we like. For some, sex might not involve any penetration, it might not even involve genital contact. Some might include fingering, blow jobs and pussy eating as sex, others decide that only penetration is sex. Trying to classify “sex” outside of heterosexual, cisgendered relationships becomes totally redundant, with so many wonderful variations on what sex is to people whose gender may not be fixed, and whose coupling may not involve a penis. I love this. I love that we can decide what sex is or isn’t, and frame that for ourselves.

WHY is this an issue? Have the amount of sex you want to have!
There is an obsession with sex quantity. This has been conflated with relationship success and happiness: lots of sex within a monogamous, long term relationship = highest pinnacle of relationship success. I remember reading in Cosmo years ago that fucking three times a week was a good number to aim for. This is so arbitrary! There are people who have little to no sex, people who identify as asexual or gray-sexual, who have wonderfully happy relationships. Embrace the identities that feel good to you!

Essentially, I write from a position of sex positivity: “A sex positive attitude towards human sexuality regards all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, encouraging sexual pleasure and experimentation”. Sex positive does not mean sex mandatory. Go fuck, or don’t. It’s no-ones business what you consider to be sex and how much of it you’re having.

This column was originally published in AUT University Students’ Association Debate Magazine, Issue 10, July 30 2017.