Saturday, March 30, 2019

Christopher Ingraham on the Sex Dearth Among Young Americans

Christopher Ingraham has written some fascinating stuff in yesterday's Washington Post about how often American adults have sex.  With graphs and everything (in the article, not in having sex). 

Here's the first of the two graphs in his article which everyone now speaks about.  It shows that the increased celibacy of Americans (not having sex in the last year at all, where having sex presumably excludes fapping to porn and other forms of masturbation) is driven by increased celibacy among the youngest respondents, those between the ages of eighteen and thirty:

Notice the orange line shooting up like an erection?  And, indeed, the second by-now-famous graph tells us that the celibacy of the young is mainly driven by male celibacy, though young women's celibacy rate is also going up.

So what is the first thing I should do after reading that article?   You guessed it.  It's not immediately ruminating on the possible theories which could explain the above graph.  It's to find out where the data came from and how the results were calculated.

Thus, I click on the link the article provides us, to go to the research report.  Or so I naively expected.  Instead, I was directed to the source of the raw data, or the home page of the General Social Survey.  Presumably we are all supposed to go and do our own calculations from that giant data bank.

This is sloppy.  Note that I am not arguing the results are wrong.  What I am saying is that we have no easy way of checking Ingraham's work.  Even if all his calculations are absolutely correct, others might not be so scrupulous if publishing research findings without showing any of the homework becomes the accepted approach.  Sigh.

Assuming that the above graphs can be viewed as valid, what do they tell us? That something seems to have changed ten years ago, around 2008, but only for the youngest of the age groups.  What could that "something" be?

Our incel friends (involuntarily celibate men) would argue that the findings prove their belief in a few magical alpha males (called Chads) fucking all the willing females while all the beta males end up not having any access to female bodies*.  

Let's see what is wrong with the Chad theory when applied to the second graph above**:

The incels believe that they can't get the sex they are entitled to because a) women no longer have to sell sex in exchange for bed and board (the traditional marriage arrangement) and, b) because, instead, women now have premarital sex where they actually are allowed to choose whom to fuck with, and they choose the Chads of this world.  So it's the loss of the traditional marriage as women's only real career path and the increased sexual powers of women in the premarital sex markets which the incels believe has led to their misery, combined with the general perfidy of the female sex.

But both premarital sex and women's ability to work in the labor force, as an alternative "career path" to traditional marriage,  were really common many decades before that 2008 change in the above graphs, and nothing extra changed in that respect in 2008.  Neither does the Chad theory explain why the celibacy rates have also climbed for young women since 2008, even though not as fast.  Incels don't believe women can be involuntarily celibate, after all.

So much for the incel explanation***, though thinking about it made me realize that the many ruminations about the second graph above I have seen online always just assume that the celibacy the graphs show is involuntary.  Maybe it is and maybe it is not.  We have no way of knowing.

Ingraham's article summarizes a few other reasonable explanations for the finding that it's particularly young men whose celibacy rates have risen.  Two are based on the effects of the latest recession:

There are several potential explanations for this, Twenge said.  Labor force participation among young men has fallen, particularly in the aftermath of the last recession. Researchers also see a “connection between labor force participation and stable relationships,” she said.

The survey showed, for instance, that 54 percent of unemployed Americans didn’t have a steady romantic partner, compared with 32 percent among the employed.

Young men also are more likely to be living with their parents than young women: In 2014, for instance, 35 percent of men age 18 to 34 were living in their parents’ home, compared with 29 percent of women in that age group. At the risk of stating the obvious, “when you’re living at home it’s probably harder to bring sexual partners into your bedroom,” Twenge said.

The last great recession lasted, officially, from December 2007 to June 2009, which means that it coincides with the start of the rising celibacy rates among young Americans.  That's why I called theories based on it more reasonable.

But given that this recession is now over, they don't explain why the trend lines in the second graph keep rising after the end of the recession.

Jean Twenge, the expert interviewed in the Ingraham article, also suggests a third reason for the general findings that Americans have less sex overall:

One final factor that may be affecting Americans’ sexual habits at all ages is technology. “There are a lot more things to do at 10 o’clock at night now than there were 20 years ago,” Twenge said. “Streaming video, social media, console games, everything else.”
 Even though technology may be affecting the sexual habits of all age groups, it's probably true that the gamers, say,  are more likely to be young men than young women, and gaming can take a lot of time when one is really into it. 

That "everything else" category in Twenge's comment intrigues me!  Could it possibly refer to online pornography,  an easily available substitute for sex with real humans? Given that heterosexual men are the largest group of online porn consumers, could this play a part in solving the puzzle?

I have no idea if the use of online technology, including online porn, changed a lot around 2008.  But that seems something worthy of more research.


*This Chad theory is extremely popular in the incel circles, even though it breeds hopelessness among the incels who can never become Chads (it's all evo-psycho pseudo-theories which make such moves impossible) and even though it results in the general hatred of women who should be doling out sex to all men who want it.

** It's an utterly crappy and vile theory.  But here I want to see if it could be fitted into the facts (assuming they are facts) the second graph portrays.  And the answer is negative.

*** Note, also, in criticism of the Chad theory, that  72% of young men and 82% of young women did have sex at least once during the previous year

Those would be the majorities of both men and women, and there's no way that the Chads are assumed to be 72% of all men.  They are, after all, supposed to be the alphas, the rare heroic leader types with chiseled faces, strong jaws and bulging biceps who get all the pussy out there.