Sex

Helen Fisher on COVID's Sexless Summer

"Single millennials today, I'm calling them the new Victorians. They really are! They have much less sex than we did in my generation. They're careful."

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Experts—both real and self-proclaimed—predicted in spring 2021 that single people, newly vaxxed after a long COVID-19 lockdown, would be on the prowl come summer.

But like so many would-be summer blockbusters, the reality just didn't live up to the hype. While some observers say "hot vax summer" was a bust because of the delta variant and the rise of online porn, Helen Fisher says it's actually just an acceleration of a long, slow decline in one-night stands and hookup culture that predates the pandemic.

Fisher is an anthropologist who is the chief science adviser for Match.com, a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute, and the author of, most recently, a revised edition of Anatomy of Love. For each of the past 11 years, she's overseen Singles in America, an annual survey of more than 5,000 singles of every age, gender, and sexual orientation. Across the board, but especially among millennials and Generation Z, she says that "looks are out, emotional maturity is in. Stability is the new sexy."

Fisher appeared on The Reason Interview With Nick Gillespie in December to discuss her research.

Q: The wet, hot, slutty summer of 2021 was a bust. Is that a correct assessment?

A: Absolutely. I actually call it post-traumatic growth. Singles have really just simply grown up. They're now looking for something stable. Yes, looks still count, but not the way they did count.

Q: Is that from just the last couple of years, or is it a phenomenon on a long scale?

A: The trend is longer, but there was a huge leap forward since the pandemic. We compared the most recent Singles in America study with data from this summer to 2019, which is right before the pandemic. I create about 200 questions every year, and then we poll all these singles and assemble all the data to see what's going on. And the single most important question, as it turned out—I didn't know it at the time—was: "Do you want to have a partner who wants to get married?"

In 2019, 58 percent of singles said yes, they'd like to have a partner who wants to get married. And in 2021, 76 percent of singles said yes, they wanted a partner who wanted to get married.

Q: You think that'll hold up as the world normalizes?

A: That is really, I think, the No. 1 question. I don't know the answer.

This is my hypothesis: I think the courtship stage will remain very long. I think people will still be marrying later, particularly millennials, but I think that they will start looking for somebody sooner. I don't think they're gonna marry any sooner, but I think they're gonna start looking for a partner sooner, and all of my data show the longer you court, and the later you marry, the more likely you are to stay together.

Q: We've heard that millennials are lazy, that they're selfish, that they're slackers. It seems like you're painting a different picture.

A: We now have data on 55,000 singles. It is a representative sample and it's real data.

We don't understand who men are; we don't understand who women are; we don't understand much about sex. It's unbelievable how far we need to go still. But the bottom line is, for example, one-third of millennials before the pandemic lived at home. "Well," people say, "they're lazy." No, they were saving their money. They were putting their lives together. Single millennials today, I'm calling them the new Victorians. They really are! They have much less sex than we did in my generation. They're careful.

Q: What explains that diminution in sexual activity at the precise moment when America, as a culture, threw off its primness?

A: This is a question that a lot of scientists have tried to answer and among the things that they end up saying is that a lot of these people are very busy. They've got a lot of extracurricular activities. A lot of these people grew up in what, in the old days, they called a broken home. They see the fragility of relationships. A lot of them are spending an awful lot of time having second jobs and getting through college and then paying off college debt and building a career. It's a very serious generation.

This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity. For a podcast version, subscribe to The Reason Interview With Nick Gillespie.

NEXT: Brickbat: He Doesn't See Color

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  1. "They have much less sex than we did in my generation."

    Lady, decadent Roman aristocrats during the Empire had less sex than your cohort.

    1. Restoration nobility were more discriminating in their sexual tastes than your g-g-generation.

      1. "...The ravenous Catherine The Great..."

  2. "A lot of them grew up in what, in the old days, we called a broken home."

    So a lot of them are traumatized by the mayhem wrought on family life by the cavalier attitude towards sex and relationships of previous generations.

    If you don't understand much about sex now, maybe you have been asking the wrong questions or ignoring answers that did not fit what you wanted to find.

    1. Oh come now, we can’t have the leading sex researchers sounding like Crisis magazine!

    2. She says herself she doesn't know what men or women are so without fundamental definitions it makes understanding anything impossible.

      But let's ignore the ridiculous stretching of "rape" plus #metoo believe all women and the virulent cancel culture of the left and I have a clear understanding of why the risks of sex are not necessarily offset by the rewards, especially given the safe access to porn as an outlet. Not a good setup for society but entirely one of the postmodernist left's creation.

      1. The whole thing would be a laughingstock of non-science if it weren't for our modern SCIENCErrific! Era.

        45% of singles have actually dated someone outside of their race, and 46% have dated someone with different political beliefs. And we expect those numbers to keep climbing.

        Uh, if the dates (and race) are anything of consequence, you can't get much above 50%. The longer and further it stays above 50%, the more you have to manufacture artificial racial divisions. If the dates aren't of any consequence, you're, uh, soundly disproving the "Once you go black..." myth, I guess.

        1. Easy to get above 50%. We're talking dating here, not marriage. If I have ten dates and one was with someone outside my race or political party, then that's a date outside my race or political party.

          The idea that half the people will never date someone with different skin color is just weird. Even from my redneck background it's still weird. The political belief thing is harder, because a helluva lot of people make this their show stopper today. In some places dating is based on the presence or absence of MAGA hats, for instance.

          1. Easy to get above 50%. We're talking dating here, not marriage. If I have ten dates and one was with someone outside my race or political party, then that's a date outside my race or political party.

            I said 'if the dates are of any consequence'. I had coffee with a black guy (literally) doesn't mean anything.

            The idea that half the people will never date someone with different skin color is just weird.

            It didn't say skin color, it said race. Leaving the stipulation up to the subject.

            The political belief thing is harder, because a helluva lot of people make this their show stopper today. In some places dating is based on the presence or absence of MAGA hats, for instance.

            Oh, I see. I'm making logical arguments in plain English against a divisive, true believing retard. I should have known.

            1. I make $100-200 an hour working from home. In case you recognize that’s great. njl My partner has twins and made over $16,000 in his first month. It’s so amazing to earn a lot of money when others need to work less for it….. http://WorkStar24.blogspot.com/

  3. Culture changes. Reality changes. Cycles differ. Synchronization among these has its own rules and those change at their own pace.

    Film at 11.

  4. People today gotta be picky about their mates. Can't be banging someone who isn't ticking off all the political boxes. How embarrassing to wake up in the morning next to someone who is going to get cancelled by the evening.

    And I think there's some small truth to that. How many of you would refuse to sleep with someone who voted for Biden? Or gawd forbid, a third party? In generation would shag anything that moved, we didn't care. So maybe millennials got something going there. Be a bit picky about who you vow to share the rest of your life with. Maybe the New Victorianism isn't the bad thing people say it is.

    1. In my generation, you didn't need an app to hook up with people. If you did, you were some sort of anti-social moron. This reads like that. You want the hookup stats, go to Tinder. And, even then, take it with a heaping helping of salt. The paid-advertising annual report of Match.com's usership winnowing down to socially-inept morons is reflective of nothing except grift.

      1. I'm long out of the dating scene, and I don't remember even thinking of worrying about someone's politics. It wasn't something I refused to do; it was something that didn't even exist. I knew couples who knew their votes would cancel each other and so would not vote.

        The difference is how much government has grown and intruded into our daily lives. It is literally more profitable, both financially and emotionally, to push and cajole government into minding others' business than to try minding your own. If you are naive enough to try minding your own business, too many others will get government to mind it for you.

        That is the evil of government. But no one will give up their taste of government benefits as long as they think anyone else keeps their government benefits. Thus the government ratchets up ever more control of everybody's business; as people see others get more perceived benefits, they want some too.

        1. I'm long out of the dating scene, and I don't remember even thinking of worrying about someone's politics.

          Right. Radical feminists self-selected out of your dating scene. Now, thanks to the internet, we can get updates, year over year, on how their struggle to find a nice female POC and settle down is going. Even more strictly, uh, practical, we can get endless updates about how Women's search for a 6'2" 200 lb. doctor who makes over $500K and is also a feminist is going. People didn't talk about voting, they talked and mated with people who's values they align with. That hasn't exactly changed, we just do a lot more meaningless blathering/statement of wishes otherwise.

          1. Ladies, you want a mate? Call yourself a libertarian and head off to a libertarian meetup. Fifty guys for every gal! Of course, forty of them are nuttier than a fruitcake, and the remaining are already married, but if you're not picky that's the place to go. Better than a single's bar if your standards are low.

            1. Right. I didn't exactly mean to impugn radical feminists or feminist ideology, it's just that many have an explicit "Don't date men." policy and the ideology, in varying waves of policy supports or endorses that. Pretty sure the LP would evaporate if they adopted a "Don't date women." policy and I doubt Match.com is running articles detailing the intrigues of libertarianism to singles.

              1. Fuck 'em, impugn away. Feminism has devolved from suffragettes to the current crop of resentful shrews casting about for any tiny perceived slight about which they can hoist the grievance banner. Throw in the assertion of bravery for everyday activities, a widely accepted belief that men are somehow a single mind, from the 1950s US, and a variety of other stupid easily disproved beliefs. Their entire culture revolves around narcissism and petty grievances that many young children grow out of at a very early age.

    2. And I think there's some small truth to that. How many of you would refuse to sleep with someone who voted for Biden?

      Well, given what various studies and surveys have shown, probably a very low number. People on the right are far less judgmental and likely to 'cancel' or 'unfriend' someone with opposing political views. Now, reverse that question and I'd suspect you'd get a very high number. The good news on that front is, people on the left are the most sexless people on the planet right now so you won't be missing out on much. Plus you'll probably dodge an uncomfortable #MeToo allegation which would undoubtedly start with a post on Medium.

      1. When asked whether they would be comfortable having a roommate with opposing political views, 69 percent of Republican students said yes. Among Democrats, on the other hand, only 39 percent said yes. This speaks volumes.

        1. But I suspect this is changing. For a certain cohort on the right, since 2015 at least, politics has become everything. The left already believes that politics is everything, the New Right is heading in that direction too.

          1. I would totally sleep with AOC... while wearing a MAGA hat.

            1. She would also make you wear a mask.

              1. Fair trade off

              2. 'She would also make you wear a mask.'

                Would it be a Tucker Carlson mask?

            2. And I wouldn't touch her with your dick.

            3. Doesn't this equal the realm of sticking your dick in crazy?

              'Course, it would be rough and tumble passionate in another eight years, since she'd be thinking the world's about to end. 🙂

  5. Never in human history has Match.com been responsible for the majority of hookups or marriages. They're becoming increasingly irrelevant and these studies represent the growing trends in their (user's) own self-selection.

    All the cool kids are swiping right on Tinder or using Snapchat to coordinate time to Netflix and chill and Match.com is spending their time paying for ads on Reason where they can yammer about their anti-social users' need to virtue signal by filling out Match.com surveys.

  6. What's the app that tries to get people married?

    Oh, yes, eharmony. How are they doing?

    1. And how well are they doing compared to their competitor, ewhoremoney?

  7. I'm calling them the new Victorians. They really are! They have much less sex than we did in my generation. They're careful.

    Oh my dear, they're the New Victorians in so... so many ways.

    1. The Victorians may have been prudes, but only the upper upper classes. Don't forget that the most common disease among Victorians was syphilis. And you don't get that from a public toilet.

      1. You get it from a tanning bed!

  8. Not for nothing, but they've been called new or neo-Victorians for quite some time, more than a decade. The left-leaning sorts, and feminists, progressives are all too often prudish about anything that does not fit into their worldview or suit their needs. I suspect Fisher thinks she is clever, and she is no doubt a hoot at parties, but she didn't coin the term. It didn't take much imagination or education for some rando on the interwebs ten or more years ago to notice that the millennials and progressives were acting like Victorians.

    1. Not all millennials are progressives. Do you have any data showing that millennials are more likely to be progressives than GenX, Z, Boomers, etc? I've never seen it. Just because oldsters like to bash on them for being heads full of mush does not mean they are a bloc of proggies. That would be like claiming Boomers are all liberal hippies with shrines to Hillary in their living room.

      1. You're joking, right? Look at any political survey. Here, it took me about 10 seconds to find this:

        https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/05/14/on-the-cusp-of-adulthood-and-facing-an-uncertain-future-what-we-know-about-gen-z-so-far-2/

        Gen Z and millenials are almost twice as likely than the silent generation to think that the government needs to do more to solve problems. 70% vs 39%.

    1. I was surprised to learn that they don't do their own laundry but, I've got to say, spinning off the laundry business makes sense.

      1. I remember teh best thing about getting my own property, was also getting my own washer and drying and doing my laundry at home instead of hoofing it to the local laundromat.

  9. Does anyone really care if Helen Fisher gets laid?

    1. Pleather apparently. Is the weird old fucker going through a bad breakup? What's with the shit music and sex articles lately?

    2. Only with two bags. Doggie style or pronebone only as well.

  10. The Panda generation is too busy whacking off to their selfies to be having sex with other people.

  11. I never asked a woman about her politics before dating. That would seem a weird thing to do to me. You date to find out your compatibility by dating, and politics would be part of that. I guess if you were a political activist, and only looked for partners at political meetings, that would be different.

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