A 2015 Gallup survey showed that Americans in 2015 were 16% more likely to approve of having a baby outside of marriage than in 2000 and 15% more likely to approve of pre-marital sex.1
Others showed that American adults in 2000–2012 had more sexual partners, were more likely to have had casual sex, and were more accepting of most non-marital sex than in the 1970s and 1980s. Specifically, they show that the percentage of those who believed premarital sex was “not wrong at all” was 29% in the early 1970s, 42% in the 1980s and 1990s, 49% in the 2000s, and 58% between 2010 and 2012.2
Since the mid-1960s, the sexual revolution has allowed sexual practices outside of marriage to be more rewarding, at least in certain cases.3 The introduction of the contraceptive pill, the rise of feminism, and the legalization of abortion in the 1970s all combined to advance more liberal attitudes toward sex and promoted a growing social approval of premarital and extra-marital sexual relations that are growingly considered beneficial.4-6
The Decline of Sexual Activity
But this does not mean that people have more sex. People are just laid back about sex.
In recent years, many studies have documented a decline in sexual activity.2, 7 For example, Twenge finds that Generation Y is on track to have fewer sex partners than members of the two preceding generations. In fact, her numbers show that those who identify as members of Generation Y are two-and-a-half times as likely to be abstinent as Gen Xers in their early 20s.8
According to an analysis of the General Social Survey, the percentage of 18-29-year-olds reporting no sex in the year preceding the survey increased from around 15% in 1990 to 23% in 2018. In addition, the average American adult went from having sex over 60 times a year 20 years ago, to around 50 times in 2018.9
How We Measure Sex Frequency and What We Know About It
Sex frequency is measured directly by asking participants about how often they have sex with a partner in a certain timeframe.10 Previous studies show contradictory evidence about sex frequency and pleasure.11 Some studies show that a higher number of orgasms and more frequent sex positively correlate with greater emotional and physical fulfillment during sex.4, 12
However, others find that men and women differ in this regard. McNulty and Fisher, for example, show that higher sex frequency is positively correlated with greater sexual satisfaction for men alone.13 Others report on a positive correlation between sex frequency and sexual fulfillment among women in college.14
The Sex Frequency “Billboard”
So which couples have more sex? To test which couples show the highest sex frequency, responses from 3,207 survey participants from Germany were examined. The respondents, aged 32-46, answered a very detailed questionnaire concerning their relationships and intimate lives.
The results show that among the seven sub-groups measured, the order from those with the highest sex frequency to the lowest was as follows (Note that this is a rough estimation because it is all relative to a reference group — married people — and there is a chance that two groups ranked next to each other will not show a statistically significant difference).
1. Divorced/separated who live apart together (LAT) with a new partner
2. Never-married who live apart together (LAT)
3. Divorced/separated currently cohabiting with a new partner
4. Never-married who cohabit with their partner
5. Married individuals (who live together)
6. Divorced/separated single with no partner
7. Never-married single with no partner
This list shows that one needs to have a partner in order to show high levels of sex frequency. But once one has a partner, committing and living together reduces sex frequency significantly. The regressions account, of course, for demographic and socioeconomic variables such as age, gender, income, education, number of kids (if any), and more.
The Implications for Sexual Satisfaction
These results also address a secondary-level question that was raised previously regarding the effect of sex frequency. The results clearly show that sex frequency significantly correlates with sexual satisfaction for men and women alike. The variance accounted for by sex frequency is 22.9% for men and 21.5% for women. This means that couples who are higher on sex frequency (those living apart) are likely to be higher on sexual satisfaction. Indeed, this was also found to be the case.
Married people, in any event, have relatively less sex, close to those without a partner. This makes one think about the reasons for the decline of marriage as an institution and why people choose to forgo wedlock.
Facebook image: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock
1 Frank Newport, 'Americans Continue to Shift Left on Key Moral Issues', Gallup. http://www. gallup. com/poll/183413/americans-continue-shift-left-key-moralissues. aspx (2015).
2 Jean M. Twenge, Ryne A. Sherman, and Brooke E. Wells, 'Changes in American Adults’ Sexual Behavior and Attitudes, 1972–2012', Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44 (2015), 2273-85.
3 Shara J Weaver, and Edward S Herold, 'Casual Sex and Women: Measurement and Motivational Issues', Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 12 (2000), 23-41; Catherine M Grello, Deborah P Welsh, and Melinda S Harper, 'No Strings Attached: The Nature of Casual Sex in College Students', Journal of sex research, 43 (2006), 255-67.
4 Linda Waite, and Kara Joyner, 'Emotional Satisfaction and Physical Pleasure in Sexual Unions: Time Horizon, Sexual Behavior, and Sexual Exclusivity', Journal of Marriage and Family, 63 (2001), 247-64.
5 Ted Joyce, Ruoding Tan, and Yuxiu Zhang, 'Abortion before & after Roe', Journal of health economics, 32 (2013), 804-15.
6 Tom W Smith, 'Attitudes toward Sexual Permissiveness: Trends, Correlates, and Behavioral Connections', in The John D. And Catherine T. Macarthur Foundation Series on Mental Health and Development: Studies on Successful Midlife Development. Sexuality across the Life Course, ed. by A. S. Rossi (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), pp. 63-97; Arland Thornton, 'Changing Attitudes toward Family Issues in the United States', Journal of Marriage and the Family, 51 (1989), 873-93.
7 Jean M Twenge, Ryne A Sherman, and Brooke E Wells, 'Declines in Sexual Frequency among American Adults, 1989–2014', Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46 (2017), 2389-401.
8 Jean M Twenge, Igen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2017).
9 Tom W. Smith, Davern, Michael, Freese, Jeremy, and Morgan, Stephen L., 'General Social Surveys, 1972-2018 [Machine-Readable Data File]', (Chicago: NORC, 2019, 2019).
10 M Nicole Warehime, and Loretta E Bass, 'Breaking Singles Up: Sexual Satisfaction among Men and Women', International Journal of Sexual Health, 20 (2008), 247-61.
11 Edward O Laumann, John H Gagnon, Robert T Michael, and Stuart Michaels, The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago press, 1994); Ondina Fachel Leal, and Lisa Louise Earl Castilho, 'Reproductive Culture and Sexuality', Estudos Feministas, 6 (1998), 425-37; Willy Pedersen, and Morten Blekesaune, 'Sexual Satisfaction in Young Adulthood: Cohabitation, Committed Dating or Unattached Life?', Acta Sociologica, 46 (2003), 179-93; Susan Sprecher, 'Sexual Satisfaction in Premarital Relationships: Associations with Satisfaction, Love, Commitment, and Stability', Journal of sex research, 39 (2002), 190-96.
12 Linda Waite, and Kara Joyner, 'Emotional and Physical Satisfaction with Sex in Married, Cohabiting, and Dating Sexual Unions: Do Men and Women Differ', Sex, love, and health in America: Private choices and public policies (2001), 239-69.
13 James K McNulty, and Terri D Fisher, 'Gender Differences in Response to Sexual Expectancies and Changes in Sexual Frequency: A Short-Term Longitudinal Study of Sexual Satisfaction in Newly Married Couples', Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37 (2008), 229-40.
14 J Kenneth Davidson Sr, and Linda E Hoffman, 'Sexual Fantasies and Sexual Satisfaction: An Empirical Analysis of Erotic Thought', Journal of Sex Research, 22 (1986), 184-205.