By Arwa Mahdawi

While there are a bunch of factors at play, from social media to a decrease in alcohol use, one hypothesis can be worrying

(Not much) sex in the city

And just like that, nobody’s having sex any more. Middle-aged people aren’t having much. Young people aren’t having much. Japanese people aren’t having much. Nor are Brits or Australians or Americans. Over the past decade a number of studies have found a significant decline in sexual activity around the world, the latest example of this being a recent US-focused study showing declines from 2009 to 2018 in all forms of partnered sexual activity and a decline in adolescent masturbation. The researchers, by the way, looked at self-reported information from government surveys among people 14-49 years old; it’s possible that it’s a very different story when it comes to the over-50s.

So what’s going on with young and youngish people these days? Why is sexual activity declining? While the study didn’t go into possible underlying factors in much detail – nor did it look at the effects of the pandemic – two of its authors, Debby Herbenic and Tsung-chieh (Jane) Fu, recently shared their hypotheses with Scientific American. The (very technical) summation of the conversation is that a bunch of factors are probably at play. There’s increasing social media and video game use, of course. A decrease in alcohol use could be another factor. Perhaps most interesting and worrying, however, is the researchers’ hypothesis that the mainstreaming of extremely rough sex could be putting a generation of young people off sex altogether.

Is the culprit rough sex?

In recent years there’s been a significant normalisation of choking and strangling during sex. Pornography has played a big role in this, but women’s magazines and popular culture (50 Shades of Grey, for example) have also helped to make rough sex “trendy”. Hebernick and Fu told Scientific American that choking or strangling during sex “seems to be a majority behaviour for college-age students”. While in many cases it’s consensual and enjoyed, the researchers note that aggressive sex can also be intimidating. “We don’t know to what extent that may be driving some people to opt out [of sex], but we do know that some people are feeling frightened,” Fu noted. “They could consent to sex, but something like choking might happen without them being asked before.” That’s hardly an unreasonable fear: in 2019 the campaign group We Can’t Consent to This noted that, in the past decade, 30 women and girls have been killed in what was claimed to have been consensual violent sexual activity in the UK. “Rough sex gone wrong” has become a worryingly common cover for femicide.

To be clear: there’s nothing wrong with rough sex as long as it’s truly consensual. What’s problematic is when young people learn about sex through porn and think that violence is a normal part of intimacy. Hebernick and Fu’s observations about the normalization of rough sex echo comments that the singer Billie Eilish made last month, about the impacts watching porn from a young age had on her mental health and how it skewed her expectations of what sex should be like. “The first few times I … had sex, I was not saying no to things that were not good,” Eilish said in an interview on the Howard Stern Show. “It was because I thought that’s what I was supposed to be attracted to.”

Read entire article at The Guardian.

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