THE NO SEX REVOLUTION of 2023 by David Williams
Apparently, 1 in 4 Americans have not had sex in 2023. Californians between 18 to 30 report that 38% have had no sex in the last year. Across the country, 30% of males report zero sex in in 2023 and 19% of females. Even with the endless smorgasbord of online dating, and the hookup culture making the general headlines, the real story is that a lot of people are not getting it on. We are more isolated than ever. The human story of sex and love is complicated, as I have written about before, and trying to tease out what is natural for us human beings when it comes to sex and love (by looking at our evolutionary past and at our primate heritage) leaves us in a quandary. Promiscuity is the name of the game for most of our primate relatives, including the chimps and bonobos, while a harem lifestyle is the practice of gorillas. A tiny fraction of primates, like the gibbons, live in “family units” consisting of and males and females with offspring, practicing some kind of monogamy. But socially monogamous primates are rare (meaning they have a partner but will fool around on the side) at only 29%, while for mammals in general, serial monogamy is extremely low: 3-5%.
For humans the sexual revolution of the 60s failed when there was an attempt to divide sex from emotion/attachment (the Playboy philosophy), and it failed again over the last decade as the hookup culture gained prominence, with young people not wanting to get tied down for career purposes, while still wanting to experience the pleasures of the flesh—only leading to disillusion.
But the current run of abstinence is a mystery, as the drive for sex, and the need for romantic love, are both very well engrained in our species, ever since pair-bonding evolved as the typical human mating pattern eons ago. As with everything human, biology and culture intertwine every step of the way, and it is no easy task to try and pull them apart. One influences the other, with even the expression of our genes being affected by things that happen to us in life, epigenetics, as the environment and experience often decide what genes are turned off or on, and at what times. Living shapes us, not just our DNA. So, trying to figure out the why of less sex now that at any other time in US history is not easy. A number of reasons have been put forward, all reasonable, and most likely it’s the cumulative effect of all these forces that has led to the decline.
1. Electronics have taken over the world like nothing else, with most of us spending more time in the virtual world than the real one. Many have given up on the rich biology of the senses—smell, taste, touch—in order to live in a virtual world of backlit images and magnified sound. We see and hear things that are not real, manufactured artifacts that lack the subtlety of the natural world we evolved in, while the other senses seem to atrophy. But scientists well know that it is the whole plethora of sensory inputs that is important to mating, that we evolved to smell our future mates, to hear their voices, to absorb their laughter, as well as to see them and touch their skin.
2. Related to this is the ubiquity of free and endless porn, which makes finding a real flesh and blood mate a lot less necessary, as it’s just so much easier to just turn on a screen and get riled up. Porn-mates can’t turn you down, and there’s no risk of getting your ego shattered. So, why dive into a mating game that is often like going into battle with bruised egos and broken hearts lying in ruins.
3. The culture has shifted dramatically for women and for men. While the Me-Too Movement was absolutely just and necessary as a way of finally tackling the predatory nature of powerful men, there has also been a backlash, as many men today often feel that pursuing someone in public is no longer possible. A guy can’t just walk up to a woman in a bar these days and try making a move on her without feeling like a creep, a predator. A lot of men would just rather now not deal with the shame of that, so the old ways of pursuing a mate in person have declined. That could very well be for the good, but it does leave online dating as the only option for men and women looking for a mate.
4. Online dating has become hideous these days, with frauds, scams, rip-offs, for men and women, becoming the norm—sometimes as high as 99%. Love is one of our deepest needs and greatest emotional values, and it turns out that it is relatively easy for scammers to get hook people and rob them of their money. Studies in neuroscience have shown that men are much more influenced by pretty faces (evolutionary signals of fertility and health), while women are moved much more moved by signals of wealth and words conveying a sense of appreciation, loyalty, and fidelity, signaling a partner who might be reliable and able to provide. These tendencies are part of ancient wiring that has been around for a few million years, as love evolved in conjunction with raising children for decades—longer than any other animal. These are not just cultural tendencies, as the same trends occur in cultures all around the world, regardless of material wealth. Therefore, it is not too hard for scammers to create just the right mental calculations for men and women that will pull them in. It’s a multi-billion-dollar business, with complete syndicates dedicated to the full-time crime of love. Of course, a lot of young people have gotten hip to this and decided to hell with dating sites. It’s a lot easier and safer to stay home and watch Netflix.
5. You can’t meet someone at the office anymore and have a romance flare up—without getting fired. Laws against comporting with the opposite sex, while created to manage abusive power differentials in the workplace, whether that be in business or in educational institutions, have also served to stifle the kind of thing that was heretofore natural. 48% of people, in the past, have met the person they married at work. 58% of employees still report to have engaged in a romantic relationship with a colleague. But now these romances can easily be “criminalized,” at least in terms of someone losing their profession and shamed in the public arena.
6. We are living in a kind of Love straight-jacket, and the consequence is that more people are living alone, and they are lonely. Nearly 28 % of households had one person living alone, some 20 percentage points higher than in 1940. Living this way is not good for social animals, and with loneliness comes depression, suicide, drug addictions, and a rise in hopelessness. If these is one thing clear about human nature, it is that we love being around one another. We crave love and we crave companionship. For humans, the worst punishment, worse than death even, is solitary confinement. We seem to have locked ourselves out of the one thing that truly makes us happy, as study after study has shown that it is not “things” that do that trick, but it is relationships we have in life that give us joy. For this reason, it makes sense that some humans will still put all reason aside and jump into online dating that has a 99% scam rate, as that 1% chance is still huge, after all. It’s enough to keep one from jumping off the roof or drinking oneself into oblivion. For those who believe in Love, who believe that romantic love is our greatest gift as humans, we need to feel that a genuine connection is around the corner. We want to love someone, and we want someone to love us as well, whatever our sexual orientation. For the time being, we are stuck with what we have, until we can think of something new or bring back something old. In the meantime, as the 30% surrender, there is still some guy or gal who will get on a dating site, say from Denver, and talk to a potential love partner halfway across the US, or even across the world, in Salt Lake City, or Tokyo, or Paris, and strike up a conversation, not knowing if that person is real or if it is just a fake photo they are talking to. Age doesn’t matter. Race doesn’t matter. Wealth or fame doesn’t matter. One human heart needing another, maybe that's
the most central part of who we are.