Here at Slate, we generally believe that the best way to put a nagging question to rest is to answer it as rigorously as possible. It doesn’t matter how naïve, banal, or puerile the question is: In seeking the definitive answer, one frees the mind to contemplate higher things, like the surface area of God or Melania Trump’s belts. To this end, we once built a tool to inform readers whether they had had a high or low number of sexual partners relative to their peers. Today, we are telling you whether you have sex more or less often than your peers.
The data here comes from the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey of Americans’ behavior and beliefs conducted every other year, and spans from 2000 to 2014. It’s self-reported—nobody is independently verifying how often the respondents canoodle. (For more details, hit the “Methodology” button on the interactive. You can download the data I used here.) You’ll notice a couple things in the last two graphs: Older people in the sample report having sex less frequently and people without a regular sexual partner report having sex way less frequently.
These graphs summarize 14 years’ worth of data, but patterns in sexual frequency have changed significantly in recent decades. A study published in January in the Archives of Sexual Behavior came to the conclusion that adults were having sex about nine fewer times per year in the 2010s than they were in the 1990s. The effect was uneven across generations: When the researchers controlled for age, they found that Americans born in the 1930s were having sex more frequently—again, controlled for age—than Americans born in the 1990s. The overall decline, they write, “appears to be rooted in twin trends: Americans with steady partners are both fewer in number and have sex less often.”
Don’t despair if you have sex more or less frequently than your peers. It doesn’t matter, and things could change. You could stumble into true love; you could stumble into true sex. As the Bible says, “he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” Maybe better not to know, after all.