Phones are too good or Americans are too fat to have sex?

“Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex? Despite the easing of taboos and the rise of hookup apps, Americans are in the midst of a sex recession.” (Atlantic, December) is long and rambling, but two trends are identified:

  • Americans are more likely to have a smartphone than in the old days
  • Americans are more likely to be fat compared to the old days

Both are identified as reasons why Americans might have less sex than a few decades ago (the idea that weight leads to body shame is considered, but not that extra weight simply leads to having less energy to move around, including in bed).

Researchers don’t consider another big change: the rise of “single parents” (data from 1960, 1980, and 2014). These folks need to hire a babysitter before heading out for a Tinderfest. Contrast to the old days when a married couple with kids could do whatever they wanted after 10 pm.

Readers: What do you think? Blame phones, blame weight, or blame something else?


  • “Child Support Litigation without a Marriage”: the cash and litigation trail that may follow sex acts in the U.S. Sex is potentially much more lucrative than a W-2 job for a college graduate in California, Massachusetts, or Wisconsin). So you’d think Americans would be eager for this. But on the other hand, the researchers are measuring weekly or monthly sex and it is possible to make $millions with only a single sex act. So maybe there is no inconsistency.
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8 thoughts on “Phones are too good or Americans are too fat to have sex?

  1. > or blame something else?

    I’ll go with door number 3. In the western world, once you see it, it’s everywhere you look. This is unlikely to become a popular view, however. It’s uncomfortable to reflect that we’ve become our own laboratory mice!

  2. Access to porn is definitely lightyears beyond 30 years ago. The modern 4k options are a lot more appealing than the morbidly obese disabled mother of 3 a starving programmer has to settle for in real life. Supermodels put their lives on instagram, where only 10 years ago we had to settle for halftoned magazines or worse, Anyone still settling for real life is encountering much more conservative values. Voters support liberalism for everyone else but no-one eats their own dogfood.

  3. Birth rates collapsed in the former Soviet Union and East bloc after 1990, due to the economic crisis after the fall of Communism. I would think the same is applying to the US since the Great Recession. Official statistics claim there was a recovery, but it was not broad-based and benefited mostly the well-off. To quote Thoreau, many live a life of quiet desperation, and are driven to opioids. Certainly all that angst does little for a sex drive, and the young are most vulnerable to economic uncertainty

  4. @Lord, what was behind “door number 3” that you linked to was a very insightful read for me. I’m not qualified to question it but reading it makes me wonder why the Middle-East and Africa continues to have high birth rate? How does Calhoun’s experiment explain this?

    • George A., Calhoun’s lab was an environment where previously severe constraints were removed. For us humans, in most of the world, such constraints are still present. Their removal or relaxation has been confined mostly to the western world. But see also Japan.

      The parallels between us and Calhoun’s mice might be a very interesting and fruitful field of investigation for Science. But I suspect that a consequence of our following the mice is a disinclination to look for them!

  5. It’s just a fantasy. It’s not the real thing… Somtimes a fantasy, is all you need. – Billy Joel

    I think we have a confluence of things causing the drop in sex.

    Porn is a big thing, first because for some the fantasy is better than real life.
    Second, with everyone so good looking (perfect) in porn, everyone is self conscious.
    We are leading busier lives with less “idle” time. Work demands more. If you have kids, they take time. And in my case, we have parents and disabled siblings. Most people are really stretched, and not in a good way.
    We are leading more “distracted” lives, why have sex when you can watch Narcos, Dexter, Billions, Games of Thrones, Westworld, etc.?
    Sex is now a source of stress, not relaxation.

  6. Phil G: I’m not saying any of the hypothesis proposed by readers here are wrong, per se, but why do we assume there’s a “sex recession” at all? There’s a sex recession compared to the 1960-1980s. Why do we assume that era was the correct amount of sex?

    • More of everything “desirable”. Thus we should have more sex than any time in history or we are not making progress.

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