The age at which young people are having sex for the first time is increasing. How can this be and how bad is it? ‘Young people are spending less and less time with each other physically - something that is really necessary for sex after all.’
The Dutch have become less sexually active in the past year, research by the Central Bureau of Statistics showed in March. Except 75+ people. This age group is actually having more sex. A major reason for the decline among young people is that the age at which young people have sex for the first time is getting higher.
In 2014, in the 16- to 25-year-old group, 63 percent were still sexually active. Now, almost a decade later, it is 56 percent. Why is that? Culture researcher Linda Duits, also a former Folia columnist, explains. She specializes in popular culture, especially in the field of gender and sexuality.
Why are young people in the Netherlands having less and less sex?
‘It is not only in the Netherlands that young people are having less and less sex, but this trend can also be seen internationally. And then it’s not just about vaginal sex, but also about fingering, blowjobs and other forms of practicing sexuality. This is according to the 2017 study by sexuality expertise center Rutgers called: sex under 25.’
‘It is always difficult to pinpoint exact causes of such developments. We think that raising the alcohol age plays a role - simply because alcohol makes you looser. Second, we see across the board that childhood is being stretched: young people start smoking later, for example, and stay at home longer. And so they start having sex later.’
‘Finally, there is digitalization. We see young people spending less and less time together physically - something that is really necessary for sex after all. Instead, they are increasingly on social media. Young people are therefore less and less likely to take the first step in real life, according to research by Rutgers. They also find it easier to make contact online. They would rather get turned on there than in real life. We also see that corona has accelerated the development of digitalization, because at that time, of course, contact was mainly digital. It took young people getting used to physical social contact after the pandemic.’
What about other forms of sexuality, such as online sex, initial dating, masturbating, and watching porn?
“They all start this just a bit later, too. The number of young people who have sent a nude photo or sex video of themselves to someone else is up a few percent from 2012. The age they first start dating has also moved up, as has the age they first start masturbating.”
“By the way, we don’t see young people starting to watch porn later or earlier. Where young people used to find an old and ragged porn magazine on the street with a bit of luck, porn is now very easy to find on the Internet. Then you would think that young people are actively watching more porn now, but it may be that because it is so widespread now, the excitement falls off a bit and it is therefore less interesting to watch.”
How bad is it that young people are having sex later and later?
“That depends on what perspective you look at it from. I recently read an American piece by someone from Generation Z who argued that since #MeToo there has been much more attention paid to sexually transgressive behavior. That makes sex less attractive. I can imagine young people are thinking: I’d rather have sex later with a person I really trust than the bad sex the generations before me had.”
“What worries me is that young people are having more trouble engaging in social contact, which can include sex. Contact with others is very important for young people’s social and mental well-being. They have had two years of scarce social contact because of the pandemic, and that has cut into their social development. We also see huge waiting lists for mental health services - and those problems are not solved overnight.”
So you link the fact that young people are sexually active later to the broader theme that they generally have more difficulty engaging in social contact?
“Yes. When I finally got to physically teach again after two years, it was interesting to see sophomores who had never been to college. During breaks, for example, students chat with each other a lot less than they did before the pandemic. That’s a skill they haven’t learned from sitting at home during the pandemic. This is very unfortunate.”