What did 2020 mean for sex lives of Californians? See findings from comprehensive survey

·2 min read

Nearly one in four California adults didn’t have sex in 2020, the highest mark recorded in the 20-year history of a comprehensive UCLA health survey.

The California Health Interview Survey asks tens of thousands of respondents each year a broad range of questions about their health, including how many sex partners they had during the past 12 months. It is conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research in collaboration with the California Department of Public Health and the Department of Health Care Services.

About 23.7% of California adults reported having no sexual partners in 2020. By comparison, 22.9% of California adults reported having no sex in 2019. In 2011, a decade earlier, about 18% of California adults reported having no sex.

In the four-county Sacramento region, 24.7% of adults reported zero sexual partners in 2020, up from 23.3% in 2019 and 20.8% in 2011.

Since the data is based on a statistical sample, it features a margin of error. For California, the margin of error in 2020 was about plus or minus 1 percentage point. For the Sacramento region, it was about plus or minus 3 percentage points. While the margin of error may muddy year-to-year trends, the long-term pattern is clear: Fewer Californians are having sex.

Nearly all of the increase in Californians not having sex came among young adults. About 45.5% of Californians ages 18 to 24 reported zero sexual partners in 2020, up from 38.8% in 2019 and 29.5% in 2011.

Young adults reported lack of sex about as often as seniors ages 65 to 74, according to the survey.

The trend is occurring nationwide, and there are many theories about why young adults are having less sex than their peers did a decade or two ago.

For many, the pandemic and its shutdowns made it more difficult to find sexual partners. The survey, however, asked Californians about sexual partners in the past 12 months. By definition, any question asked in 2020 about “the last 12 months” includes at least some months before the shutdowns, which began in March.

In addition, young adults are putting off marriage until later in life. Married Californians are more likely to report having sex in a given year than single people.

Other experts have pointed to the widespread use of pornography as a substitute for sex. But there are many potential causes, as a recent article in The Atlantic magazine summarized the views of experts and young adults: “It might be a consequence of the hookup culture, of crushing economic pressures, of surging anxiety rates, of psychological frailty, of widespread antidepressant use, of streaming television, of environmental estrogens leaked by plastics, of dropping testosterone levels, of digital porn, of the vibrator’s golden age, of dating apps, of option paralysis, of helicopter parents, of careerism, of smartphones, of the news cycle, of information overload generally, of sleep deprivation, of obesity.”

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