According to a general social survey taken between 1999 and 2014 in which respondents stated how many times per year they were having sex, the average number of sexual encounters in a year have been going down over time. But as urologist and sex educator Dr. Rena Malik explains in a new video on her YouTube channel, it’s not quite as simple as just saying that people are having less sex.

“Specifically what they found was that the people who were decreasing the most were people in their midlife who had school-age children,” says Malik. “And that makes sense, that you’ve got children to take care of, you’re working, and it can be exhausting to manage your household and also make time for intimacy for some people.” She goes on to acknowledge that some people are having children later in life than generally used to be the case, meaning that by the time those children are self-sufficient, the parents may be at a point where their sex drive is declining for age-related reasons.

Other factors to consider in this study include some people not having long-term partners, and the people who do have long-term partners still not necessarily having sex. Malik speculates that this could be, in part, due to a cultural and technological shift since the year 1999: there are simply more entertainment options out there now than there were 20 years ago. “Also, there has been a decline in happiness and rise in depression,” she adds.

Interestingly, while studies in other countries like the United Kingdom and Australia have also found that frequency of sex seems to be decreasing, people also appear to be broadening their “sexual repertoire’ with sex toys and masturbation to feel fulfilled without the need for a sexual partner.

And it’s not just adults. More recent research shows that a rising number of teenagers are not engaging in any kind of sexual activity whatsoever. This could be in part due to the ease of access to sexual content online, as well as an evolving view of sexuality and gender among younger people (for instance, it is less anomalous now for somebody to identify as asexual).

Malik notes that there is also a much keener awareness these days of the consequences of sex, such as unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as the emotional and psychological impact it can have. And finally, practically speaking, there are economic concerns: fewer people are able to afford a place of their own, and are cohabiting with their parents, families, or roommates for longer.

“The big thing here to think about is, does less sex mean that they’re dissatisfied? Not necessarily,” says Malik. “Yes, they may be having less sex. Is that translating to lower birth rates, or having an underpopulation? That’s yet to be seen.”

Philip Ellis is a freelance writer and journalist from the United Kingdom covering pop culture, relationships and LGBTQ+ issues.

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