A once-a-decade poll of 15,000 Britons has found that those aged 16-44 are having sex less than five times a month. Figures are down, knickers are up, knees are staying firmly shut – at least compared with previous surveys. We’re not in the mood for a shag. Modern life has given us a headache.
In the 1990s Damon Albarn told us Modern Life is Rubbish, and he made a salient point, because the 1990s – before mobile phones, pre-web, pre-social media, that era where we crackled about in man‑made fibres, and the highlight of provincial life was gawping at the new big Asda – did indeed flirt with distinct rubbishness. But it was a slower time, with baggy, fritterable time to be bored. A time when the devil could make mucky work for idle hands. It was a pre-“selfie”, less self-conscious time where our wobbles, pimples and double‑chins weren’t under constant scrutiny. And now it transpires – by no coincidence – that it was a sexier time where we went to bed and simply did it more.
And by did it I mean actually did it with another human being – even the person we were married to or were long-term committed to. And sex, not “sexual activity”. The latter is where one partner sleeps because they are exhausted from doing two shift-jobs and four school-runs and puzzling over the different recycling bins and rotas which the local council have decreed – and the other partner stares at an iPad and chats to their newly re-united childhood crush on Facebook who lives 200 miles away, followed by a session of masturbating to free internet porn clips in the downstairs toilet. That sex doesn’t count. Not even if Whitney did say loving yourself was the greatest love of all.
I wonder how many thirty- and fortysomethings gave reasons for lack of sex that were along the lines of, “In the moments when I’m not rustling up another pissing themed costume for my child or answering the door to cold-callers hoping I’ll swap internet provider, or worrying about the fact there’s more month than money, I just like a nice sit down with Eastenders and my knickers on.”
Of course, the mobile phone on the bedside table, or slid under the pillow as an alarm clock but also to check cricket scores – or the laptop in bed on your knee last thing at night screening iPlayer while pruning a fractious e-mail box... these are all the enemies of modern sex. Growingly, we are connected with every corner of the world but not the other corner of the bed.
I’m not sure how we stop this as a nation, because none of us wants to. In fact, the process of simply spending time NOT staring at a screen – connected to the universe, frantically busy yet not expending a kilojoule – is such a rarity now that it’s dressed up in elite circles as “a digital detox”. You can pay thousands of pounds to sleep in a lumpy bed, be fed chia smoothies, and have your phone removed, with the intention of rediscovering both life and your partner’s body. I wonder if by the 2023 sex survey, the Government will look at birth rates, peer sadly at our shagging statistics and begin blocking our internet usage like in China.
The other enemy of sex is “still living with your mother-in-law as you can’t afford a home, and having to hear her coughing up phlegm through paper-thin walls after an evening of her explaining the things she saw in TK Maxx”. Yet as we are no nearer to building affordable housing or tackling the deficit between pay packets and first-home deposits, hopefully couples will learn to include the travelling noise of their dad’s bathroom functions into their “sexy play”.
Other findings in the sex survey I’m taking with a pinch of salt. Apparently women are closing the gap on men in the number of partners they’ve had. Previously it was 3.7 and it’s now 7.7. I lived through the 1990s and do not remember this great time of female chasteness. I do however remember much less willingness to admit publicly what happened when that bloke “slept on your sofa”.
Similarly there’s been a massive rise in women having a same-sex partner. Previously 1.8 per cent, it’s now 7.9. Either something wondrous in the water has created a legion of British lesbians - both full-time and hobbyist – or women are becoming more blasé about their sexual truths. Oddly, there has been a much smaller increase in men who have ever had a gay experience – up from 3.6 per cent to 4.8 per cent – which is weird as Grindr.com is doing a roaring trade. If women stayed awake after the recycling has gone out, they might hear their husbands on it.