Sex is everywhere: it’s on TV, on the internet and on people’s lips as conversations around the #MeToo movement continue.
But even though society talks a lot about sex, experts say Canadians — especially millennials — are actually having less of it with partners, and opting to have sex with themselves instead.
“There’s the same amount of masturbation,” said Dr. Lori Brotto, director at the University of British Columbia’s Sexual Health Laboratory.
“There’s no drop in that.”
Brotto, who recently published the book Better Sex Through Mindfulness, said research suggests people are having less intercourse for a variety of reasons.
Stats show that Canadians are losing their virginity later in life, and a recent report revealed that American millennials are having less sex compared to other generations. But Brotto believes this trend is true across other age demographics — and there’s some data to back that up.
A recent U.S. study found that adults are having less sex today than they were in the 1990s. This was true for singles and couples. “There’s no reason to think the data would be any different for Canadians than it would be for Americans,” Brotto said.
On the other hand, Canadians are still self-pleasuring, Brotto said.
“Research shows that levels of sexual desire are not related to masturbation levels,” Brotto explained. “In other words, if a person has low levels of desire, it doesn’t necessarily impact how likely they are to engage in masturbation.”
Low sexual desire is a contributing factor to declining sex rates, Brotto said. This lack of interest is often related to psychological and social factors, like being “stressed out.”
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“There’s a big survey called Stress in America that gets done every year, and they found that rates of stress are increasing — especially in young people,” Brotto said.
Stress can hinder one’s sex drive, and make people less interested in intercourse. Brotto pointed out that masturbation is often used for stress-relief.
“A lot of people, especially women, will not necessarily say that they masturbate for purely sexual reasons,” she said. “Sometimes it’s to get to sleep, or if they’re feeling anxious, it’s to change their mood. Or they’re bored.”
Dating is another factor likely contributing to declining sex rates. Dating apps in some ways have made it easier for people to connect with others, but they’ve fundamentally changed how people interact.
The U.S. study that found Americans are having less sex also revealed that there’s an “increasing number of individuals without a steady or marital partner.”
“Dating has become exceptionally difficult for people,” Brotto said.
“A lot of people are simply electing to not date because they are either fed-up with online dating, or because of the structure of dating has changed so much over the years that people actually find it quite difficult to go through the steps of courting.”
Carlen Costa, a London, Ont.-based sexologist and registered psychotherapist, agrees. She said that despite being able to find numerous suitors online, it’s hard for people to forge meaningful connections in real life. This affects how likely they are to have sex.
“People are exceptionally touch-deprived. We’re scared to hug, to hold hands, to touch, we’re scared to have sex,” she said. “We’re in this really special time … that’s disallowing people to have longer-term, meaningful relationships — even though that’s what people want.”
“There’s also been this emergence … of the whole sex doll industry,” Brotto said.
Sex doll brothels are attempting to gain traction in Canada. In Toronto, Aura Dolls was scheduled to open in September, but the plan was paused after the company’s lease agreement was terminated.
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In Vancouver, a sex doll brothel is the subject of much debate.
“Some of the folks who study [sex dolls] say that they’re an alternative or outlet for people who have great difficulty socializing sexually,” Brotto said.
Access to internet pornography also plays a role in our sex lives, but experts are mixed on how much.
“This is a really messy, controversial area,” Brotto said. “There’s really two camps on this: the clinicians, who see people in their practice who say, ‘My [sex] problems started when I started watching porn’ … and research. The research does not show that at all.”
“The research has not found that the degree of pornography use or duration of pornography use is associated with sexual problems. So how do we reconcile those discrepancies? There’s probably many, many examples of individual people who are negatively impacted by porn, but it looks like it’s not generalizable to the whole population.”
“We have shorter attention spans,” Costa said, pointing to our reliance on the internet and social media. “Having sex and a fulfilling sex life takes time, and … our attention spans are just so short now.”
Costa said this may also factor into why people are more likely to masturbate. Watching porn or sexting is an easy way to engage in sexual activity without the effort of ensuring another person also experiences pleasure.
“When you think you need to spend half an hour with somebody to do something, it’s like, ‘I don’t have time for that!'” she said.
“That’s why Snapchat is so exciting. It’s like, ‘Send me five [nude] pictures and I’ll orgasm.'”
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