Kate Julian is Senior Editor at the Atlantic Monthly. In New York Times’ columnist Ross Douthat’s words, her cover story in the December 2018 issue is an “examination of what she calls the “sexual recession” looks at a surprising reality of life in the sexually liberated West — the fact that despite (or because of?) our permissive culture and the sweeping availability of entertainments that cater to every kind of sexual desire, the sexual act itself has fallen somewhat out of fashion, along with its usual accompaniments (relationships, marriage, childbearing), while onanism and long-term celibacy are on the rise.”
I’ll confess, I had to look up “onanism.” Turns out it’s just a fancy word for masturbation and/or “coitus interruptus.” (It might be noted here that coitus interruptus used to be a form or very chancy birth control but, in a pornified culture, it has become a regularized part of “regular” sex (i.e. ejaculating on your partner instead of in her. Birth control and objectification all rolled into one.)
According to Julian, “American teenagers and young adults are having less sex” than their parents were at the same age. Surprising statistic? Perhaps, but the reason for the statistic is certainly surprising.
In highly competitive Asian countries, the habit of putting off sexual intimacy (a practice known as sekkusu shinai shokogun or “celibacy syndrome”) is notoriously commonplace. But the practice of delaying sexual intimacy is spreading to Europe and America as well. It turns out that rather than seek the pleasure and risk of real intimacy, young men and women are simply taking the less risky—and far less pleasurable—route of simply going it alone.
As Julian notes, From 1992 to 2014, the share of American men who reported masturbating in a given week doubled, to 54 percent, and the share of women more than tripled, to 26 percent. Easy access to porn is part of the story, of course; in 2014, 43 percent of men said they’d watched porn in the past week.”
Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo has dubbed the phenomenon procrasturbation, a term destined to enter the lexicon of young adults everywhere.
Julian’s lengthy article is well worth the read. And, of course, is raises interesting questions: Should we, as a culture, celebrate the “celibacy” gained by increased porn and masturbation? How do we encourage young people to engage in the emotionally risky world of real intimacy with real people? What roles—if any—do delayed maturity as a result of so-called “helicopter parents,” or the ubiquity of screens instead of faces, etc. play in this phenomenon?
In 1970, Toffler called it “Future Shock.” Humans are slow to adapt as a species and resistant to risk and change as individuals. Yet, the future is coming at us faster every day. Who knew it would revolutionize our sex lives in ways the so-called “sexual revolution” never did?