NEW YORK—Somebody finally found a decent explanation for why people under 30 are so goldurn grumpy.
They’re not having sex.
Kate Julian, a senior editor at The Atlantic, laid it all out in a December article called “The Sex Recession” that goes into great detail about the question: Why are young people having sex at a lower rate than…well…at any time since we started keeping track of young people having sex?
A great newspaper editor named Ron Smith, who had a long career in both Philadelphia and Dallas, actually predicted this sad state of affairs as early as 1986. Speaking of fresh-faced college graduates working as interns at the Dallas Times Herald, he said to me one day, “They’re not fucking, Joe Bob. They spend their weekends laying bathroom tile. What kind of world is this where newspaper people don’t fuck?”
Apparently it was the beginning of a world where they don’t drink, either, and they don’t date, and they definitely don’t toga. Animal House came out in 1977, but I’m afraid it was already a historical footnote just a decade later.
Kate runs down an amazing list of possible reasons that people give for the lack of nookie, but none of them ring true to me.
(1) The hookup culture: Wouldn’t that result in more sex, not less? What are they hooking up to do? Play board games?
(2) “Crushing economic pressures”: If you’re broke, wouldn’t a few hours of sweaty Aardvarkus Doublehumpus make the day go a little easier on your way to that 7-Eleven microwaved burrito for dinner?
(3) “Surging anxiety rates”: Again, nothing like making the Sign of the Triple-Gilled Anaconda to take your mind off the meteors about to crash into the planet.
(4) “Psychological frailty”: I’m not sure what this is, but if it means insecurity, then they haven’t reached that realization yet that, yes, somebody thinks your ugly face is attractive, God has scrambled our collective brains so that that miracle will occur.
So far, this is mostly a list of things that have afflicted all people in all eras for all of human history, so I don’t even consider these as addressing the issue. But…
(5) Widespread antidepressant use: Yep, I’ve heard from users of Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, Paxil, and all the others that, once you start popping those babies to get rid of the down cycles, your genitals shrivel up like you’re using a cocklebur condom. But that still doesn’t explain why Millennials are depressed in the first place.
(6) Streaming television: Really? I mean, really? This is reminiscent of those family-values organizations in the ’80s that claimed television was causing rape and murder, only this time the small screen is being blamed for being a reverse Horny Goat Weed.
(7) Environmental estrogens leaked by plastics: Wait, let me put on my tinfoil hat before I address this one.
(8) Dropping testosterone levels: This is a problem all over the world—something in the water? who knows?—but not when you’re in your 20s. There’s plenty of fuel for the whangdoodle even if you live in a Goodwill box in East St. Louis.
(9) Digital porn: As opposed to what? Live porn? Theatrical porn? Thirty-five-millimeter porn? Nekkid performance art? The first motion picture was in 1892. The first porn motion picture might not have been until 1893, but it came pretty quickly in the form of stag reels and the like. This is not a new thing.
(10) “The vibrator’s golden age”: The idea here is that the vibrator, which could always do many things a penis cannot do, has entered such a technologically advanced state that male members, no matter how well manipulated, can never achieve anything approaching the spectacular orgasmic nirvana of a perfectly placed, perfectly operated, perfectly calibrated miniature sex machine. The male version of this is those Japanese sex dolls that are like supermodel androids—they don’t just get you off, they tell you the sex was the best they ever had. (Which, of course, it was, unless you bought a used one, and let’s not go there, okay?) My guess, in both cases, is that you get into a diminishing-returns situation where the first time is great, but eventually flesh desires other flesh. I may be wrong—Millennials have surprised me more than once—but I gotta believe this solution has a shelf life. Isn’t there an “Aha” Moment where you realize your most intimate friend is a four-inch mechanical midget or a five-foot Tesla with limbs?
(11) Dating apps: Again, wouldn’t this result in more sex, not less? Even if you have to swipe right 3,000 times to find one person who wants to have sex with you, it doesn’t take that long to swipe right 3,000 times.
(12) “Option paralysis”: No idea.
(13) “Helicopter parents”: You shouldn’t be living with your parents beyond the age of 18, so the road to sex is exactly what they’re already telling you: get a job.
(14) Careerism: Yes, there are people who say, “I don’t have time for sex because my job takes up all my time.” There have always been people who say this. They’re the same people who end up getting fired when they’re caught having co-worker sex in the break room.
(15) Smartphones: No, you shouldn’t text during sex, and if turning off your phone freaks you out, then yes, you need a little attitude adjustment before you can give yourself over to wild abandon, but this seems like an easy habit to break once you start making the Sign of the Burrowing Beaver with your stunningly attractive partner.
(16) “The news cycle”: What? I repeat, what?
(17) “Information overload”: About sex? About foreign policy? What sort of information can override an aroused limbic system?
(18) Sleep deprivation: The organizers of raves, all-night fetish balls, and swingers parties in Vegas would disagree.
(19) Obesity: Buy a copy of the Kama Sutra. Trust me, there’s a position in there that will work for you!
“Name a modern blight,” writes Kate Julian, “and someone, somewhere, is ready to blame it for messing with the modern libido.”
But several of the Millennial belief systems outlined in the article did strike me as borderline insane, assuming the goal is to meet someone you can have sex with:
(1) Most Millennials believe it’s creepy to hit on someone at a bar.
This is a fifty-year throwback to the idea that bars were places for men and that, when women are there, they should be treated like visitors to an opium den, walled off from reality lest they be mistaken for prostitutes. Of course, the Millennial definition of “hit on” might be something as simple as “Can I buy you a drink?”—the line that has been used for millions of years because it has two advantages: (a) It gives the woman an easy way out (write this down, Millennial Girls: “No thank you, I’m waiting on my boyfriend.”), and (b) it achieves a quick result for the male. Males in bars already know it’s a one-in-a-hundred shot, so they expect the rejection—they just want the whole exchange to be good-natured and quick. The “Can I buy you a drink?” conversation, after the shoot-down, sometimes results in friendships.
But it gets worse:
(2) “Seventeen percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 now believe that a man inviting a woman out for a drink ‘always’ or ‘usually’ constitutes sexual harassment.” (The article didn’t offer any stats for women asking men, men asking men, or women asking women.)
This one truly endangers the future of civilization. Once these people are in charge, we’re not gonna be able to make enough babies.
Can we at least accept as a reasonable premise that someone, somewhere, at some time, has to say something to a relative stranger in order to start the dating process? If everything that can possibly be said in that department is defined as “hitting on,” or sexual harassment, then all you guys deserve whatever you get. Have fun shaming each other into middle age.
But it gets worse:
(3) When they go to the locker room at the gym, Millennials wear underwear under their towels.
In two generations, we’ve gone from Greek-style totally nekkid gyms to gyms where people wear $300 worth of Nike athleisure sportswear while showering. This doesn’t bode well for orgiastic aardvarking.
But then there’s the one that blows me away:
(4) Debby Herbenick, a leading sex researcher at the famous Kinsey Institute in Indiana, says that Millennial men piss off Millennial women the first time they have sex by (a) choking them, (b) ejaculating on their faces, and (c) trying to have anal sex.
So it turns out it’s not the lack of sex drive that’s the problem, it’s the lack of interest in anything resembling a naturally evolving sex life between two people figuring each other out. Notice that none of the above three things are conducive to pregnancy, but all of them are likely to be popular in porn. Making the prior assumption that women want those three things simply an indicator that the guy failed to learn how to converse.
Actually, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want any of these people having babies. Let’s move on to the Post-Millennials and the Post-Post-Millennials. Someday someone will eventually discover good old-fashioned American sex again.
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