We Are Living in the Post-Horny Era

These days, sex and love are nothing more than productivity handicaps.

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10 May 2019, 8:58am

Illustration: James Burgess

At the turn of the millennium, something nasty happened. Until that point, a sexless life was the preserve of married couples and eunuchs. A sex-free life for young people was an impossibility: getting your first morning after pill and false-alarm STI scare was practically a teenage rite of passage.

As we waited for the Y2K bug to mash up our computers and plunge the Western world into mayhem and panic, we didn't suspect that something else would glitch. As the clock ticked over into the year 2000, we entered the Post-Horny calendar.

Changing social attitudes, Spice Girls feminism and the rise of the ladette suggested we'd be going wild with whoever we wanted. Our sex drives said otherwise. Twelve years into this millennium, the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles found that frequency of sex had fallen by 20 percent since the previous survey in 2000. The Guardian noted the most shocking fact: that 25 to 35-year-olds were the lowest-scoring age group for monthly sex, adding, "We're all either ignoring our partners or desperately seeking one." Others ran with the headline that women were having less sex with more partners.

This week, we have once again heard that Brits are having less sex. It's not fresh data – researchers looked at three successive waves of the British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, carried out in 1991, 2001 and 2012. We've been reminded that millennials are having sex an average of 4.9 times a month for men and 4.8 times for women, compared to 6.2 and 6.3 respectively a decade ago. Lead researcher Professor Kaye Wellings said the "sheer pace of modern life" may be a reason why many people are having less sex. There it is: your parents were having more sex than you in the 1980s and are still getting laid more than you are!

We can hypothesise about what it is exactly that's caused our barren sex lives – anxiety levels, hypersexualised pop culture, porn, unrealistic expectations about sex, online dating, fear of losing control, antidepressant use – but the truth is that it's all of those, coming under the umbrella of late-capitalism. It’s not our fault, and it is, but it's only a problem if you value sex and everything that comes along with it. We are deep into the Post-Horny era, a time in which sex and love have been fully commoditised. They’ve been de-prioritised, falling behind an obsession with career status and being a Girl Boss and working until you get adrenal fatigue. They’re productivity handicaps. Sex itself? An extra, not a necessity. You can't professionally capitalise on sex; you can’t even really get social clout.

Remembering your one good ex. then furiously masturbating to the worst porn you can find, at the grand old age of 30? Post-horny.

Breaking up with "this one" because you stopped having sex years ago, thinking you might dabble in BDSM, then having one Tinder shag before getting into another sexless LTR. It's post-horny.

Unable to decide between all the people you slept with a total of three times and are still half-heartedly DMing. You’re still post-horny.

Asking your girlfriend why she reached over to grab her phone and open Instagram as you calmed your anxiety disorder enough to initiate sex, and her replying, in a daze, "I'm not sure." Post-horny behaviour.

Waiting for The One while building your career and learning a lot from self-help feminist books and your therapist, Sally. We’ve hit peak post-horny over here.

For single people, hook-up culture has lost its charm: what was once daring and fun is now perceived as a basically worthless effort. At best, you might briefly experience the faux-thrill of the hook-up lifestyle, but dating app sex itself is frequently of poor quality – which is unavoidable when it's predicated less on genuine desire and more on the fact you happened to swipe right on someone, based on a half-second glimpse of their face.

These days, self-betterment is everyone's priority; we all want to know ourselves and become our "best selves". In the Old Days, people might have learned about themselves through their relationships with other people. How messy!

If we’re not having much casual sex because we're single by choice, the situation is little better in relationships. Few coupled-up people come home from work and want have a deep and playful discussion, or lounge around having sex; they'd much rather zone out together watching Netflix until someone falls asleep.

Of course, some have pushed back against these post-horny times. Among both millennials and Gen Zers you'll still find a fair amount of one-night standers, Killing Kittens attendees, English Lit lotharios, small town shaggers and dating app devotees – but it's fair to say that when it comes to sex, more of us think and talk about it than actually have it.

People still get confused when they see "millennials don't have sex" headlines, because sex itself is perhaps more pervasive in our public and online lives than it's ever been. But it shouldn't be a shock: this downturn has been some time in the making – 19 years, at the very least. After all, as soon as something is everywhere, nobody wants it.

@hannahrosewens