Let’s talk about sex — and how young people might be having less of it


Clara Varndell, a sophomore public health major, adjusts her “condom fairy” wings during Condoms on the K Monday, Oct. 23, 2017. The event kicked off Kent Interhall Council’s annual Sex Week.

Nicholas Hunter

Experts say dating apps could be killing your sex drive

At Kent State, we’re not shy about sex.

We’ve had Sex Week on campus in previous years, which included Sextoberfest, Condoms on the K, a “Sex in the Dark” Q&A session and a bunch of other sex-themed events. There are free condoms in the men’s bathrooms. Even the yearly energy conservation effort put on by Kent Interhall Council is called “Do It in the Dark.”

Despite this movement of sexual openness on campus, researchers are finding young people are having less sex than any previous generation.

A 2016 study from the  CDC and a 2014 report from the National Institutes of Health found young people are having less sex — they’re having it later in life, less frequently and with fewer partners than ever.

As the Atlantic’s Kate Julian demonstrates in her in-depth piece on the topic, “The Sex Recession: Why are young people having so little sex?,” there are a lot of reasons.

One of those reasons, according to the story, is people’s discontent with the use of dating apps like Tinder and Bumble.

Kenneth Hanson, a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon who studies gender, sexuality and its connection to new media, talked to me about this discontent from people he’s interviewed for research.

“The idea that like everybody who downloads these apps is going to have readily accessible, easily accessible sex is definitely not the case,” Hanson told me. “Even of the people who have used (dating apps), it doesn’t appear that they’ve met a lot of people. It seems that the actual number of matches on the app to the number of people that they meet in person as a pretty stark ratio.”

Megan Barrett, a Kent State graduate student studying public health, told me she’s heard from friends that, even though most of them have Tinder accounts, they often don’t use them.

“They feel like using (Tinder) … takes away from their experience,” Barrett said. “One of my friends described it as … your Tinder is almost like a social marketplace, meaning that you’re trying to sell yourself to somebody else and somebody else is trying to sell themselves to you because you connect with that person on a purely physical attraction level.”

And while some college students are turning away from the app — and hookup culture in general — because of a distaste for the culture, Hanson told me others have rejected it out of fear.

“There are people who are using these apps, but for one reason or another — generally it’s fear — you know, fear of ‘stranger danger’ or getting kidnapped or a person might not be who they appear to be or something like that, they don’t go through with it,” he said.

The pressure to avoid contact with strangers, coupled with unfettered access to strangers online, Hanson said, creates a disconnect for some over the best way to use Tinder.

“It is somewhat counterintuitive that you spend your primary years of socialization being told not to talk to strangers,” Hanson said. “So it does create … some might call it a cognitive dissonance, right? If I was told not to talk to strangers, but I want to find a partner. But the trendy way to do that now is to literally talk to strangers over the internet.”

Along with the distaste for hookup culture and dating apps, Hanson told me an increase in alternatives to sex could be contributing to this decline.

“The proliferation of pornography is disconcerting,” he said. “Especially considering that it’s not really making the industry any better … plus, it’s more accessible, it’s easily accessible. And so people might be using it as a substitute.”

Laurie Wagner, an assistant professor in Kent State’s School of Health Sciences, said an increase in porn consumption isn’t inherently a bad thing.

“People are more focused on having the sex that they want to be having and less pressured to feel like they need to be compliant with some kind of social construction of what it means,” Wagner told me. “So yeah, some of it might be because they’re masturbating more and so they don’t need a partner. I see that as a positive.”

Wagner also sees this as a safer option, in some cases.

“You know, if you just want an orgasm, I don’t think you need a partner to do that,” she said. “So if all you really want to do is to have the orgasm, it might be a more honest, it’s a more safe, you know, it might be a more appropriate thing to handle that yourself than to seek and find someone else to do it for you.”

Hanson told me regardless of the reason why people are having less sex, it may become an issue that needs addressing in the coming years.

“We’re probably going to see it turn up in our demographics 10, 15, 20 years down the road when there are fewer children and there’s fewer married people and fewer long-term relationships,” Hanson said. “We as a society have to ask ourselves, ‘Do we want there to be less people or are more people a good thing?”

Wagner, on the other hand, told me she doesn’t necessarily see young people having less sex as an issue that needs solving, and it might be a sign of the times changing for the better.

“I don’t necessarily see that as a crisis unless people are saying, ‘I’m upset about it,’ and ‘I’m sad about it’ and ‘I don’t feel connected’ about it, you know, then we have an issue,” Wagner said. “But if they’re all fine with it, then I’m not going to sound some public health alarm.

“It’s about quality, not quantity,” Wagner said.

Nicholas Hunter is a senior reporter. Contact him at [email protected].