Young people are having less sex than their age-peers of 25 years ago. But American adults are also having less sex than they used to. While changed economics and child-rearing practices (and the resulting stress and sheer fatigue) are driving some of this, the rest can be explained by one simple fact: for many people, sex just doesn’t seem as exciting as it used to.
The primary reason for that is the internet and the smart phone (or phone, as young people call it). Put simply, nothing in everyday life can compete with the variety, movement, color, fantasy, and reward system of the internet. In contrast, actual sex is slower, more limited, and, the way that most people do it, less rewarding moment-to-moment.
While most people don’t bring anxiety to the internet, they do bring anxiety to sex, and while most people aren’t critiquing their performance as they surf, shop, or text, they do critique their performance (and/or their partner’s) during sex. Some people even critique their partner’s performance before sex, when Joe or Mary fail to inspire enough desire, or to have sufficient desire of their own. The internet and our phones don’t seem to disappoint us in this way. But these all make sex less appealing.
Another reason that sex seems uninteresting is that it’s just about the last place in life where we can’t use our phones to rescue us from our feelings.
Annoyed at dinner? Pick up your phone. Bored riding a plane? Pick up your phone. Resentful that TV is lousy? Pick up your phone. A little uncomfortable watching me lecture? Pick up your phone (it happens at every seminar I give). Anxious in the waiting room until your sex therapist comes out to greet you? Pick up your phone (no matter how often I suggest that people use those few minutes to think, feel, relax, visualize, etc.).
But sex? It’s the one place in most people’s lives when they can’t pick up their phone.
Sooner or later, everyone will feel bored, anxious, lonely, disappointed, confused, resentful, frustrated, or off balance during sex. There’s nothing wrong with that—it just means it’s time to talk with your partner, or breathe your way back into the experience. But most people would instinctively rather reach for their phone—and during sex, you still can’t (at least not until we’re having sex with robots). And so people who aren’t willing or able to speak with their partner, or change how they feel, are stuck. And that makes sex a LOT less attractive for them.
Then of course there’s the influence of porn on both men and women. Real sex can’t possibly feel as good as porn appears, with its editing, lighting, and off-screen preparation. In porn the characters have partners with unlimited energy, dramatic good looks, great motivation, and allegedly the best sex skills in the world. They never say no, never say ouch, never say wait a minute, never have to deal with a crying baby or cold hands or having to pee.
And of course the reaction of characters in porn—essentially “wow, that’s the greatest blowjob in the history of the world!” or “wow, that’s the biggest orgasm anyone’s ever had!” is a far cry from our own experience.
Add to that women who compare themselves to how porn actresses look and move (with or without snarky male comments), and sex is definitely getting less attractive by the minute.
First, a caveat: I don’t need anyone to have more sex. More sex, especially if it’s mediocre, doesn’t automatically increase anyone’s well-being or life satisfaction.
However, people do come to me every week with sexual complaints, and lack of desire, frequency, or enjoyment are at the top of the list. And to those people, here’s my advice:
~ Don’t assume that sexual symptoms have a sexual solution
If you feel resentful, disrespected, or unloved, that’s going to undermine your sexual desire and enjoyment—but that won’t have a sexual solution. That’s also true for your partner’s feelings—they really do affect his or her interest and enthusiasm for sex.
~ Expand your definition of sex
Sooner or later, most couples kiss far less than they used to. They also touch, hug, nibble, smell, and grab each other a lot less. So the genital part of sex assumes more and more importance. This is exactly the opposite of what people need: to enjoy a wider range of activities and to see “sex” as part of everyday life, not something that’s limited to 15 minutes in a special room.
To the extent that people involve these non-genital activities in sex, they will get more aroused before and during sex, making it more attractive. People call these things “foreplay,” but they’re important because we enjoy them, not because they prepare us for something else.
~ Get from sex what you can’t get from the internet
Let’s agree about all the great things we get from the internet—continuing motion and stimulation, unlimited variety, and so on. So is there anything that actual sex offers?
Yes. Touching (which most people under-value in sex); being known and knowing someone; feeling connected; and a sense of immediacy—that something is happening right now that is unique to you.
~ Realize that porn is not a documentary
Real sex doesn’t feel like porn sex looks. And ladies, stop comparing yourself to porn actresses. Gents, stop comparing your partners to porn actresses, and stop comparing yourself to porn actors.
Of course, habituation and predictability in long-term sexual relationships is a challenge for keeping sex interesting. But that’s always been a problem. Putting your phone aside when you’re speaking with your mate will facilitate listening to him or her—and the possibility of re-discovering that you’re actually with someone interesting.
Imagine having sex with such an interesting person…hmm, could be a worthwhile way to spend a bit of time.
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If you liked this piece, I bet you’ll enjoy my article at www.MartyKlein.com/another-guy-who-isnt-a-sex-addict-2