Generation Z refers to a demographic generation that logically follows Generation Y (the Millennials). They are the people born between about 1997 and 2012. So people who are now 10 and 25. They are also called Zoomers (a portmanteau of ‘Generation Z’ and ‘boomer’). Research shows that this group is having far less sex than people in the same age group a few decades ago. And that could well be very bad for their mental health.
The relationship between sex and mental health
Research shows that adults under the age of 25 had better mental health in the 1990s than in previous generations. Today, that picture is just the opposite. And that would be due to a decline in sexual activity.
In general, sexual activity is good for our mental health. Sex (however you do it) can improve our own mental well-being, as well as our bond with our partner.
Sex with and partner can boost our psychological well-being in several ways. First, it provides a temporary boost. In long-term research that asked young adults to keep a daily diary for three weeks, researchers found that on days when people had had sex, their well-being was higher the next day. Respondents had more positive moods, fewer negative moods and more meaning in life. The benefits lasted longer if there was intimacy, suggesting that not only the sex itself is important, but also the connection we feel with another person through sex. Other research shows that on days when people have sex, they are happier at work and more engaged the next day.
That people are happier when they have had sex is because sex is a known stress reliever. Couples who have sex on stressful days show less stress the day after, research shows. That decrease in stress is greater than when people did not have sex.
That sex has a positive effect on our mental state was also found in research on sexual activity and mental health conducted during the COVID-19 lockdowns. People who were sexually active had fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression, while lack of sex was associated with a higher risk of developing anxiety and depression.
Lack of sex among Gen Z
Young adults under 25 are not having as much sex as generations ago – and many of them are not doing it at all. The results of several nationally representative surveys in the US, the UK and several other countries suggest this. This is especially true for young men. Data from the US General Social Survey, for example, show that the number of men reporting not having had sex in the past year has risen from about 1 in 5 (18.9%) in 2000 to almost 1 in 3 (30.9%) in 2018.
Something similar emerges from a representative survey of 2,000 US adults aged between 18 and 44, conducted in 2021 by the Kinsey Institute and Lovehoney; Gen Z adults show a lower frequency of sex than people in their 30s and 40s. Furthermore, 1 in 4 young adults say they have not yet had partner sex, with young men reporting more sexlessness than young women. That study also found that Gen Z adults reported the highest levels of stress and anxiety, showing a link between lower sexual activity with higher levels of stress.
Correlation or causation?
It would be too easy to blame increased stress and lower mental health among Gen Z entirely on lack of sex. Other factors also contribute, including pressures from social networks, high student loans, lack of financial prospects (e.g. to buy a house) and perspectives on the environment and climate.
Moreover, there is probably a two-way link: deteriorating mental health leads to less sex, and at the same time, less sex can worsen mental health.
How can you improve your mental health with sex?
Of course, you can also be perfectly happy without sex. But if you have no or little sex, it is important to find other ways to keep he mental health up. Or try to revitalise your sex life a little.
Sex and stress are at odds. To enjoy sex, it is important to remove factors that cause stress as much as possible. This can be done through mindfulness, massages, music, sports, meditation; whatever works best for you.
Lack of sex can also mean lack of experience. And that can undermine self-confidence. Try to get to know your body better by masturbating or exploring each other’s bodies together with your partner. Sex toys can help with this. as they can evoke new sensations or even mimic a partner. Lubricant, for example, can make sex more comfortable.
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