Saturday 21 July 2018

The decline of sex in Ireland: Experts' theories about why we're all getting less nooky

Experts have come up with a host of theories about why we're all getting less nooky but, asks Pat Fitzpatrick, author of 'No Sex, No Sleep: So You're Going to be a Father', does it really matter?

Pat Fitzpatrick: 'You just wouldn't have the energy for it after three loads of washing...'. Photo: Clare keogh
Pat Fitzpatrick: 'You just wouldn't have the energy for it after three loads of washing...'. Photo: Clare keogh
Pat Fitzpatrick with his young children

Pat Fitzpatrick

We're not having as much sex as we used to. I don't mean in our house - my wife has asked I don't discuss our sex life in this article, because she doesn't want her relations knowing we are at it like rabbits. The 'we' here is married couples or people in long-term relationships. Compared to couples from previous generations, we're really not having it off any more.

A quick Google search of 'how often should I be having sex?' throws up page after page chronicling the decline of nooky, along with offers from perfectly nice Russian women who just love to help western men cheat on their partners.

A study from San Diego State University, spanning 1989 to 2014, found that married couples experienced a 24pc drop in the frequency of sex compared to 1990s, and were now down to 53 times a year on average. The 2013 National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles in the UK. revealed that the Brits are bonking 20pc less often than they were in the year 2000. The poor Japanese seem to have given up on it altogether, with almost 50pc of married couples revealing that they are in a sexless marriage. It's worth pointing out that their definition of a sexless marriage is where they haven't done it in the past month. Once a month sex is still deep into orgy territory for some couples, particularly those with small kids. You just wouldn't have the energy for it after three loads of washing and picking up plastic toys all over your back garden. (I'd vouch for this myself, if I was allowed to talk about my own circumstances.) But the global trend these days is a firm no to nooky.

It's not just confined to older people in long-term relationships. A recent study in California found that millennials born in the 1990s are twice as likely to be sexually inactive as those born in the 1960s were during the 1980s and 1990s. Who knew? It turns out we were all at it like billy-o back in the day! This is startling stuff, considering 20 and 30-somethings are apparently just a Tinder swipe away from a no-strings quickie.

We don't have historical figures to measure any decline in Ireland, but a 2015 Irish Times sex survey showed the lay of the land, if you'll pardon the pun. It showed that 40pc of couples who have been together for more than two years have sex less than once a week, with 13pc getting it on less than once a month.

The anecdotal evidence also suggests we have turned off turning each other on.

Beth Fitzpatrick, who runs Access Counselling Clinic in Dublin, was telling us about the rise of the sexless marriage back in 2008. Based on what she sees in her clinic, things aren't getting any better.

"I think it's after getting worse, when it should be getting better. Nowadays people are much more open, the Catholic thing is gone and we're talking more about sex."

She's got a point. You'd have thought we'd have bucked the international no-bonking trend, given we have a bit of catching up to do after 400 years of pretending we never had sex at all. Apparently not.

Margaret Dunne, the psychotherapist who runs SextherapyDublin.com put it bluntly when I asked her what's going on. "People are having way less sex than before, because their lives are so busy."

Is it as simple as that? We basically have to make a choice between our careers or getting jiggy with it. If we were told that was the deal back in the 1990s, most of us would have dropped out of college.

Still, we are where we are. How did it get so bad? And more importantly, who is to blame for this scarcity of sex? The conventional answer is, of course, women.

The traditional view of sex in a long-term relationship is still the closing credits chase in Benny Hill. A balding, overweight, sex-starved middle-aged man chases an attractive younger woman around in vain. An older gent, who looks like his father, sometimes joins him in this chase, for reasons which aren't immediately obvious. But the message is clear - the flame never dims for the lads, no matter what age they are. The women involved aren't as keen. It's summed up in that old comedy circuit gag: how do you get a woman to stop fancying you? Marry her.

It turns out this isn't actually true. As you probably know, men have tried and failed to get manflu recognised as an actual medical condition over the past few decades. However, our members have a had a lot more success with the term 'manopause'. It used go under the medical name andropause, but nobody took any notice because, unlike manopause, andropause isn't a weak pun which mocks whingey men for trying to muscle in on a female condition. Stay in your lane, as they like to say on Twitter.

Manopause describes the gradual decline in a man's lust for life and more, starting at the age of 40. Symptoms include falling asleep after dinner and a thinly-veiled crankiness at the modern world. Or as it was known in our place, My Dad. This is no joke considering that I'm turning into him by the day. (He was also immeasurably kind and generous, so I'll hopefully get a bit of that too.)

This manopause, linked to a decline in testosterone, means the frisky old man, Benny Hill thing is a load of cobblers, as he might have said himself. Testosterone levels have been decreasing for males, generation on generation, with one US. study showing that men's testosterone levels have dropped 1pc per annum since the 1980s. As the headline reporting this on Forbes.com said, "You're not the man your father was." (Didn't he tell you often enough.)

You'll find plenty of arguments around the causes of this testosterone drop, with people blaming everything from anti-depressants, plastic bottles, tight underwear, workplace changes and men spending more time with their kids.

Whatever the reason, it's being felt in the bedroom, and not in a sexy way. Some of the therapists I talked to said that sexual frustration is increasingly a female complaint in couples counselling.

According to relationship expert and psychotherapist David Kavanagh it's now women who have unrealistic expectations of their men in the bedrooms.

"Women who watch porn think that their men are always on. They don't realise that for men in their 50s, it can take 30 or 40 minutes to get an erection," says Kavanagh, who has a practice in Dundrum.

I'm 51 myself and must say that half an hour for a stiffy seems a bit reluctant. But Kavanagh is in tune with current thinking, that porn is wrecking our sex lives.

Obviously you and I never watch porn, but apparently everyone else in the country is glued to it and this is causing a lot of 'should be doing better' in long-term relationships.

I smell a rat with this porn is to blame for everything. Porn is fast becoming our silent national pastime. According to Pornhub's global survey, Ireland was the sixth biggest porn viewer in 2016, with 171 views per head; daytime views of Pornhub in Ireland rose by 53pc during Hurricane Ophelia. Maybe they should have renamed it Stormy Daniels.

Come on, we're watching porn because we enjoy it. Before you blame these figures on teenage boys with unlimited data packages, Pornhub also revealed that 27pc of visitors from Ireland to the site are female and we're 65pc more likely than other countries to view the mature category. This could be a weird Mammy fetish, but let's not go there.

Here's what I reckon about porn and Ireland. Legacy guilt and prudishness means we feel the need to tell researchers and counsellors that porn is evil and wrecking our relationships, but the truth is that loads of us are getting off on it. Yes, there are some people who believe everything they see on TV, and end up suffering from unrealistic expectations. These are the same people who watched Paddington in the cinema and were later devastated to find that real-life London is full of angry people queueing at Pret A Manger.

Everyone else knows that porn is a fantasy. My guess is a lot of women watching it are delighted that their real-life lover isn't in fact a muscle-bound out-of-work actor from Dusseldorf called Gunther the Great. The sight of two oiled-up strangers hard at it in a motel room on an autobahn south of Cologne will probably make you feel good about your own life choices. If anything, it helps you love the one you're with.

I can't discuss my own experience, but I have this friend who says that once you're sexually compatible with someone, the good times never go away. There is ebb and flow, particularly with kids around, but the wild times come back as long as you stay in touch. Counting how often you do it is a mug's game, because you can't beat quality over quantity when it comes to a decent shag. And anyway, there's a very good reason we're having sex less often, and it has nothing to do with the strength of your relationship.

The reason is Netflix. Think about it. Before Netflix, HBO and Showtime came along, there was never anything worth watching on TV on a Tuesday night, after the news. Your parents didn't need foreplay or sexting - all they needed to hear was the goodnight at the end of the weather forecast, and it was straight into the sack for sexy time. (Maybe brush your teeth first.)

Now, instead of going to bed, we can just watch another episode of Game of Thrones. OK, the first three seasons are basically porno with dragons, but the storylines and acting were so good, it would have plain crazy to interrupt an episode with a sexy suggestion.

Add in Mad Men, The Crown, The Sopranos, The Wire, The Affair, Gomorrah and whatever you fancy yourself, and you can see why our generation is going to bed later, tired and satisfied. Sex is for another night.

And that's fine. Forcing yourself to have sex once a week or three times a month or whatever, that's a bean-counter approach to desire. It's not going to repair any problems in your relationship. As psychotherapist Colette Linehan, who runs Creating Calm Counselling in Limerick, points out, the absence of regular sex in a relationship is often about unresolved hurt felt by one party, rather than any lack of desire. Announcing "Hey honey, it's Wednesday night" and strapping on your Batman suit isn't going to fix any of that. (I'm actually not speaking from my own experience here.)

The 'solutions' to less sex such as stop watching the TV, put down your phone and talk to each other don't make sense to a lot of us. We're busy with life, work and kids. That hour or two in the evening enjoying a sneaky stalk of your cousin's life on Facebook or watching Wild Wild Country with your partner, that's actually quality time. It's not like we're sitting there in silence, with nothing to say to each other. Some of the most enjoyable chin-wags in our place are about some television show or a friend on Facebook who isn't exactly modest about her daughter's achievements. That's how most people make a connection these days.

As for declining testosterone, well that hormone isn't all it's cracked up to be. It was probably handy for chasing bears and travelling across oceans in a carved out log, but those are no longer things you'd put on your CV. There is lot of evidence from game theory experiments to suggest that testosterone suppresses generosity and social behaviour, turning us into status-obsessed cranks. That sounds way too much like Donald Trump. Here's the thing. People are having sex less often, and we're fine with it. Very regular sex is one of those things that seemed amazing when we first encountered it, like sending a text, or The Handmaid's Tale. Now, we can take it or leave it.

What we want is better sex, not more sex. And from what I'm hearing, a lot of us are getting it.

'No Sex, No Sleep: So You're Going to be a Father', by Pat Fitzpatrick; Published by Mercier Press, €14.99.

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