Digital Romance

Online "Living" Displaces Real Life and Relationships

CNN reported Monday on yet another recent study finding that young Americans are having less sex.[1] According to the story, “Sexual inactivity increased among young American men between 2000 and 2018, according to researchers from Indiana University and Sweden's Karolinska Institute` who studied survey data from US adults.”

Analyzing data on both sexual frequency and number of sexual partners, researchers found that “the percentage of sexually inactive 18-to 24-year-old men increased from 18.9% between 2000 and 2002 to 30.9% between 2016 and 2018.” Men who were unemployed, worked part-time, or had lower incomes were all less likely to be sexually active. And according to another study summarized by the story, women aged 25-34 were also less sexually active than in previous years.

So what is to blame? The researchers highlight the possibility that “Postponement of adulthood and the growth of the internet and digital media” could both be important explanatory factors. The rise of so-called “emerging adulthood”[2] means that things that were once markers of success—college graduation, finding a job, getting married, having children, and now even dating or sexual activity—have been pushed back into the late 20s or even the 30s, as more and more 20-somethings are opting to live with their parents while they figure things out. As the CNN story highlights, sexual activity is a bit difficult when one is living with Mom and Dad. 

But the other reason the story cites is perhaps even more interesting—and depressing. The researchers discovered that sexual activity has also decreased among older, married adults, which is one reason they posit that the growth of digital media may be affecting sex across all age groups. “Put simply,” says Jean M. Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, “there are now many more choices of things to do in the late evening than there once were and fewer opportunities to initiate sexual activity if both partners are engrossed in social media, electronic gaming or binge-watching.” No doubt also a contributing factor is the porn industry. In his latest book, Cheap Sex, Mark Regnerus highlights skyrocketing rates of porn use. According to Regnerus, 46% of men below age 40 view porn weekly, and the rate is rising for women, too.

We are one step further now along the road to hell. In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis’s remarkable allegory on heaven and hell, a group of people travels via bus from a grey, rainy city (purgatory or hell), up to heaven. The first thing they notice is that everything is more real there than they were accustomed to or even prepared to handle: “It was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; made of some different substance, so much solider than things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison.”[3] Walking on the grass even hurt their feet. Heaven, in this telling, is the perfect, complete version of things which on earth are mere shadows. As the Apostle Paul writes, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12, ESV).

If Heaven is the ultimate reality, then hell must be the ultimate non-reality. And certainly, first loosing sex from the bonds of a loving marriage, and then forsaking sex with actual human beings to pursue digital “relationships” on social media, or porn, or videos of cats on skateboards, or shopping, or any number of ephemeral things, is one step closer to hell on earth.


[1] Amy Woodyatt, “Young Americans are having less sex than ever,” CNN (June 15, 2020), available at https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/12/health/young-americans-less-sex-intl-scli-wellness/index.html.

[2] Nancy Darling, “Emerging Adulthood: The Twenty-Something Stage of Life,” Psychology Today (March 11, 2018), available at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/thinking-about-kids/201803/emerging-adulthood-the-twenty-something-stage-life.

[3] The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, HarperOne, 2002, p. 477

is the managing editor of the Howard Center's quarterly journal, The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy.

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