A new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior shows a marked decline in the sexual activity of people aged 14 and 49 between 2009 and 2018. What gives? Scientific American asked the scientific paper's lead authors—professor Debby Herbenick and research associate Tsung-chieh (Jane) Fu of the Indiana University School of Public Health–Bloomington. The reasons are myriad, they say, and could involve video games, social media, a decline in drinking, and, perhaps even an increase in rough sex.
What might explain declines among young people?
FU: We need more studies to tell us why. But for young people, computer games, increasing social media use, video games—something is replacing that time. During that period from 2009 to 2018, different types of social media emerged. This is always evolving, especially for younger people[…]
In your paper, you bring up increases in "rough sex" as potentially contributing to declines. Can you explain what you mean by rough sex, and how it could be playing a role in these changes?
HERBENICK: Especially for those 18 to 29 years old, there have been increases in what many people call rough sex behaviors. Limited research suggests that an earli er idea of this was what I would consider fairly vanilla rough sex: pulling hair, a little light spanking. What we see now in studies of thousands of randomly sampled college students is choking or strangling during sex. The behavior seems to be a majority behavior for college-age students. For many people, it's consensual and wanted and asked for, but it's also scary to many people, even if they learn to enjoy it or want it. It's a major line of research for our team: to understand how they feel, what the health risks are and how that fits into the larger sexual landscapes[…]
In the report, you note that there are probably multiple reasons that people's sexual expression has changed.
HERBENICK: Various studies around the world have proposed different explanations, such as economic status. Lower income is associated with greater declines. One study looked at use of computer games among young people [as a possible explanation]. Some folks have tracked declines in alcohol use, and we know that [alcohol use] can be associated with disinhibition. We have seen, somewhat, [an] increase in sex toy use—from what we looked at, not a massive increase. If there is a change, it's probably just going to contribute to one of the blips. I don't expect it to be the explanation.