Human sexual activity is so much more than just the way we reproduce — it really affects overall wellness. Sex in humans has been shown to affect cognitive function, health, happiness, and overall quality of life. Sex is important in optimizing our health, yet it is something we don’t discuss in most health circles. When most people hear that three-letter word, they either giggle or gasp, but the health benefits of sex are backed by sound research.
Studies have shown that sexual activity is associated with higher scores on memory and executive function tests in adults 50-89. There is also research that found a link between increased sexual activity and lower blood pressure as well as a 45% decreased risk of developing heart disease. Sex has also been positively correlated with happiness in various studies. Some research shows that people were happier and reported more meaning in life on days when they did the deed.
There is even some research that suggests that sexually active people take fewer sick days. Researchers at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania found that college students who had sex once or twice a week had higher levels of a critical antibody than students who had sex less often.
It seems clear that there is a wide range of benefits to more sexual activity, which is one of the reasons researchers are so alarmed to find out that there are steep declines in sexual activity worldwide. According to a recent study evaluating sexual activity in the U.S., there has been a significant decline in all forms of partnered sexual activity between 2009 and 2018.
The study looked at confidential survey responses from over 4,000 people in 2009 and compared those to responses from over 4,500 people in 2018. Survey respondents ranged in age from 14 to 49 years, but both groups were representative of the U.S. population.
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Sexual wellness is important, yet young people are having way less sex
The drop in sexual activity is particularly stark among young men and women. In 2009, 28% of young men reported no sexual activity alone or with partners. In 2018, that percentage almost doubled to 44%. Among young women, the percentage that reported no sexual activity, again alone or with partners, increased from 49% in 2009 all the way to 74% in 2018.
Those are not trivial decreases. This is a significant change and potentially a big deal as it relates to our mental health and physical health. While the study did not probe into the reasons for the downward trend, experts had a few thoughts on why we might have less sex today than ever before.
So, what is the most unfortunate but likely explanation for why sex is declining, specifically among young men and women? Social media. Some experts believe that young people spend more time in front of a screen and less time making meaningful in-person connections that would lead to intimacy with a partner.
There are also other theories, such as how current unhealthy lifestyles impact hormones and therefore impact sex drive. The explanation for why sexual activity is decreasing can’t all be pinned on just one thing, but the decrease is a red flag we should be paying more attention to.
The key takeaway? Sexual wellness is a complicated, taboo subject for most people. Whether you should be having more or less sex is obviously a very personal and private decision that is no one else’s business. The more important piece to take away from all this is that this trend is just another sign that we are not spending enough time making and maintaining meaningful in-person social connections with those around us.