The Current

Having less sex? Why experts say there's no need to panic

A recent study from Britain found people are having less sex, even though many respondents said they wanted to be having more. We ask why sex matters, and what it says that we're going with less of it.

A U.K. study found people are getting intimate less often, especially couples

A U.K. study found people, especially couples, are having sex less frequently. But the data may not be as simple as people think, says one expert. (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

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There's no need to panic over new data that suggests people are having less sex these days, says an expert in human sexuality.

"We shouldn't overreact," said Debra Herbenick, who teaches at Indiana University's School of Public Health.

"This is probably not as clear cut or simple as some might like it to be," she told The Current's guest host, Gillian Findlay.

The data published this week in the British Medical Journal found people across all age groups are having sex less frequently — particulary couples who are married or living together. The study involved 34,000 Brits between the age of 16 and 44, and looked at their habits over 21 years, according to the BBC.

Frequency linked to societal changes

Herbenick said there are more pressing public health issues we could worry about if we're going to be concerned.

"What I always come back to with this issue when it bubbles up with a new study around sexual frequency, is always, ultimately, are people having the sex that they want to have?" she said.

She questions who's to decide what an appropriate amount of sex is for someone, and added there could be historical reasons why frequency has changed. 

Some of these changes might actually be really exciting for people.- Debra Herbenick, human sexuality expert

For example, women may feel more empowered to say no to sex these days than they did several decades ago, she suggested.

People are also broadening their sexual repertoire these days, and engaging in different forms of sex than they used to, she said.

"Some of these changes might actually be really exciting for people," said Herbenick.

The love disconnect

That doesn't mean people don't have issues with intimacy and connecting with one another — something Herbenick warns we should pay attention to.

"The danger in discussing it this way is it emphasizes the idea that sex is the only way you can have intimacy and connection," said Stephanie Coontz, a marriage historian and author.

"There's fascinating research that shows that when you're socializing with other adults or you're going out and doing new adventures … that tends to get the libido going," she continued.

To learn more about why sex matters and what having less of it means, Findlay spoke to:

  • Debra Herbenick, who teaches human sexuality at the School of Public Health at Indiana University. She's also the former president of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists.
  • Stephanie Coontz, a marriage historian and author based in Olympia, Wash.
  • Shan Boodram, a clinical sexologist and author of The Game of Desire.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Jessica Linzey, Cameron Perrier, Julianne Hazleood and Mary-Catherine McIntosh.


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