A new study shows how the rise of hookups is having an impact on birth rates. The National Bureau of Economic Research released a paper in December that examined the effect of hookup culture on the American population. The study found that “the increase in nonmarital sex has been associated with a decline in fertility and births.” The authors write, “The evidence suggests that women are engaging less frequently in sexual activity than they did before the 1990s and have not embraced a sexually liberated lifestyle as some had predicted.”
That isn’t exactly news to anyone who’s lived in college towns or cities like San Francisco where casual sex is the norm (and sometimes even encouraged). But it’s newsworthy because of how much Americans’ attitudes toward sex have shifted over time. A growing body of research points to how our modern hookup culture may be influencing America’s declining birth rate. With many free adult dating sites such as FDating, as outlined here, people are looking for no-strings attached casual sex, and not long term relationships. People are less often looking to build families and have children.
As this new report illustrates, we still don’t know for sure whether hooking up is harming people’s ability to procreate or if there’s something else at play here. It could just be that young adults are delaying parenthood, choosing to focus on their careers instead. But whatever the case, it seems clear that in today’s society, relationships are more casual and often lack commitment than ever before—and that shift has caused a ripple effect throughout many other facets of life.
To better understand how America’s hookup culture is impacting other areas of modern life, I reached out to three experts in the field: psychologist Dr. Jennifer Baucom, sex researcher Dr. Jessica O’Reilly, and sociologist Dr. David Ley. Together, they’ve written about the effects of hookups on women, men, and society. Here, they break down some of the biggest impacts of hookup culture, from declining birth rates to relationship dissolution.
Birth Rates Are Plummeting
In recent years, the United States has seen its overall fertility rate drop for the first time since the 1970s. In 2015, the country saw a dip of 1.3 percent, compared to 2014, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, the number of babies born per thousand women between the ages of 15–44 declined by 4.4 percent in 2015, versus 2014.
These statistics show that Americans aren’t having enough kids. In fact, the only major developed country where birth rates have dropped further is Japan, whose population is actually decreasing at an alarming rate. This is bad news for the future of the U.S., but what’s behind the drop? According to Dr. Baucom, the answer is clear: our nation’s hookup culture.
“Hookup culture makes it easier for people to get laid without committing to anything,” she said. “While we do see a drop in birthrates when people date and marry, it’s usually a slow process. With hookups, you can go out, get drunk, and wind up sleeping with someone. You don’t have to worry about the fallout of being in a relationship or not getting married right away. For people who want lots of sex, it’s a great way to meet that need.”
The Rise of Internet Porn Is Making Relationships Less Satisfying
Like hookups, pornography is another product of our hookup-centric culture. As a result, the ways we’re viewing porn are changing—and it’s having an effect on our sex lives.
Dr. O’Reilly explained, “Pornography has become so accessible and normalized that people are no longer seeing it as taboo or unusual anymore. And it doesn’t take long for that to affect your real life experiences of intimacy. Instead of feeling turned on by a partner and experiencing arousal, it feels like, ‘I’m supposed to have arousal over this person.’ That’s why it’s harder to feel aroused in relationships now.”
This has implications for both genders: men may be less likely to experience desire for their partners, while women might lose interest in the idea of sex altogether. “When women view porn, they learn that their own bodies aren’t sexy. They think, ‘Oh, I look fat,’ or, ‘My breasts are too small,'” said Dr. O’Reilly. “For men, seeing more women in porn is one thing, but if they’re also experiencing reduced desire for women themselves, that’s not good.”
One solution would be to screen porn for sexism, but Dr. O’Reilly says that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. “It’s easy to say, ‘Don’t watch porn if you don’t like it,’ but that’s not realistic,” she continued. “People can’t always control what turns them on. We need to focus on how people can use porn responsibly.”
Clearly, our societal attitude toward sex—both casual and committed—is having an impact on our lives. Whether it’s the decline in birth rates or the way we’re viewing pornography, our attitudes toward sex are changing, and those changes are affecting many aspects of daily life.
What’s most important is that we recognize these trends and take steps to reverse them. If we continue to embrace hookup culture, we’ll keep seeing negative consequences. At the same time, if we start taking steps to encourage meaningful relationships, we can begin to improve the way we live and love.