Sex is one of life’s greatest pleasures yet, in 2019, NATSAL (National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles) reported that sexual frequency was decreasing. Answers around because we are not having a lot of sex they are more complicated than what the data tells us. So maybe we need to ask a new question. Should we treat this trend as a public health problem? And what could we learn about our health if we did?
You would be forgiven if you think the world of recent times looks something like Margaret Atwood’s dystopia. All over the world, we have been distributed a once-in-a-lifetime event after a once-in-a-lifetime event. There’s a ongoing climate crisis making predictions of a certain destiny a hot and sticky reality; the ubiquitous COVID-19 pandemic, as well as 14 years of austerity measures; devastating but recurring stories of violence against women and marginalized people; monkeypox; the cost of living crisis; and the biggest drop in the standard of I’ve lived since the 1950s.
It’s easy to see why many of us may feel uninterested in sex. If you too are feeling a little less lively than usual, know that you are in good company. Between 34 and 35.6% of women reported that a lack of interest in sex is one of the most common sexual problems they face, according to a study conducted by International Journal of Sexual Health in 2019. Indeed, our urge to jump coverage has fallen sharply since 2008.
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Collectively, we’ve had a tough time. With a steady stream of new-normals (which seem anything but normal) coupled with rising rates of depression and anxiety, it is easy to see how these macro events impact us personally. It was pretty ruthless, for all of us *. Well, mostly, (* cough cough – party gate – cough *).
But what can we learn about these reports of decreased sexual frequency? Simply put, the decline in sexual frequency indicates a disturbing trend with wider public health implications.
Why sexual frequency matters in public health
Public health it is made up of numerous markers such as reports of illness, injury, mental health and health resources. These help determine changes and trends such as rising birth rates, mental health, population graying (i.e. how many people are aging and living in old age) and life expectancy. So where does sexual frequency fit into this?
“Sexual frequency is an indicator that you can use to measure public health,” says Dr. Olwen Williams, counselor in sexual health and HIV medicine at the Betsi Cadwalader University Health Board. Williams suggests that, for a complete health picture, we need to include sexual health and the quality of sex to better understand public health.
“For a complete picture of health, we need to include sexual health and the quality of sex to better understand public health.”
Sex is one of the most natural human impulses. This is how we express love, passion, desire and companionship. We communicate through sex with our partners and with ourselves. It impacts our sense of self, affecting things like our self-esteem and self-image, both positively and negatively.
Sex is a spectrum of experiences, ranging from sensual touch and threesomes to solo play, mutual masturbation, anal sex and so much more. Pleasure is the measure of the quality of sex, although it doesn’t always have to involve orgasm. Orgasms are no doubt terribly great, but they are not the essence and the end of sex. Pleasure and sex can involve vibrators, slippery lubricants, and deliciously dirty language. So when researchers say fewer people have sex, they include all of these really cool things too. And this is important.
The connection between sexual frequency and public health is symbiotic, according to Williams. If holistic sex frequency reports are high, it indicates a society that has good standards of care, stable living standards, and an overall sense of feeling safe. Conversely, if people aren’t having as much hashtag-good-sex, it could mean that the population is generally under enormous mental and physical health strain. Focusing our attention on when people have satisfying sex could help us predict more of how people feel. The data has already shown to help the NHS and the governments prepare for health trends and provide better care of things like depression and anxiety, two of the largest mental health contributors a presence and absenteeismwhich costs the UK economy £ 15.1 billion per year. So why should information about the quality of our sex life be forgotten if it has the potential to help better understand our complete wellness profile?
Sex is a missing part of the public health puzzle
For things to change our social discourse on sex, however, shame and judgment need a reckoning. The education and campaign for a more authentic education surrounding sexual encounters has proven to dismantle shame, judgment and more serious issues, such as assaults, that affect disproportionately marginalized genders, black women and POCs from low-income families. However, initiatives that offer more transparent education around sex have previously been met pearl-clutching-protest – despite the advantages and despite the reports of the Sex education forum that young people have shocking gaps in their knowledge when it comes to sex and relationship education.
But it’s not just young people who experience levels of social censorship, as Williams explains: “I think most people are probably very ‘British’ and don’t talk about their sexual wants and needs as they get older, and so if not.” those conversations there is an unmet need. This can cause distress, “she tells Mashable.
He is not wrong. According to studies by the condom brand Durex, 63% of people surveyed say self-love and sex toys are taboo topics, while half of those surveyed wouldn’t dream of talking to their partner about masturbation needs. However, 47% wanted more confidence to get what they wanted sexually. There is a clear disconnect between what we want and what we are willing to admit we want.
“In all areas where people might visit with psychological or physical problems related to a person’s sexuality and psychological well-being.”
So how can we make it better? Williams thinks the first step is that all healthcare professionals, regardless of specialty, should feel comfortable discussing patients’ sexuality. Williams works in sexual health, so it’s typical in the field of him.
“In all areas where people might visit with psychological or physical problems related to a person’s sexuality and psychological well-being,” Williams explains.
The key to this understanding, Williams suggests, is more data that are truly representative of desire and libido, as well as actual sexual activity that includes the good, the bad, and the ugly.
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“We need to understand what sexual activity looks like,” he says. “I think people forget that we are inherently sexual beings. By doing broad general population surveys across the board, we would really get the bottom line of what people are actually doing. How we express our sexuality and get pleasure is fundamental for us as human beings. We need to know if the 70 year old single woman still uses her vibrator. We may think she is a sexually inactive person, but she could actually enjoy herself. “
Understanding a more complete picture of health that includes sexual frequency, intimacy, and the pleasure aspect for different people might be part of the puzzle we’re missing when it comes to understanding how to be a healthier and happier society.
But one thing is certain: without dismantling the structures that prevent a Renaissance review of public health, sexual frequency will remain a footnote in our history of social well-being.