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It’s not just you — on average, we’re all having less sex, and fears about assault may be to blame.

In an interview with Scientific American, two researchers whose findings affirm the global trend of people having less sex across many intersecting demographics discussed why, exactly, it may be happening.

Some of the findings from the researchers — Debby Herbenick and Tsung-chieh “Jane” Fu, both of Indiana University — are less surprising, be it the general decrease in sexual frequency among partnered people or the apparent correlation between increases in teen social media use and a decreased amount of solo masturbation.

But perhaps the most interesting conclusion Herbenick and Fu drew was that some of the younger people they spoke to may be avoiding sex because they’re concerned about unwanted “rough sex” behaviors like choking or even strangulation — both of which are risky, needless to say, and constitute sexual assault if done coercively or without one partner’s consent.

“What we see now in studies of thousands of randomly sampled college students is choking or strangling during sex,” Herbenick told SciAm. “The behavior seems to be a majority behavior for college-age students. For many people, it’s consensual and wanted and asked for, but it’s also scary to many people, even if they learn to enjoy it or want it.”

“We don’t know to what extent that may be driving some people to opt out, but we do know that some people are feeling frightened and don’t know what to make of what’s being presented to them, especially young adults,” Fu elaborated in the interview. “They could consent to sex, but something like choking might happen without them being asked before.”

Known within sexual health circles as erotic asphyxiation, choking has indeed seemed to enjoy extended popularity in recent decades. Breath play, as it’s commonly referred to in kink communities, can indeed be relatively safe when done with risk reduction in mind — but as this type of sex act gains more mainstream acceptance and practice, it seems like Herbenick and Fu’s research may suggest that it’s started to become an expected part of sexual encounters regardless of prior communication and consent.

Neither Herbenick nor Fu offered reasons for this perceived expectation, though others have suggested that it may be correlated with the widespread prevalence of free porn online, with the implication that young people are learning violent sexual behaviors from porn.

Unfortunately, that line of thinking often flattens the complicated economics and content promotion of porn as a business, and treats both viewers and people who act and work in porn as pawns of an exploitative, misogynistic industry — a overly simplistic view that ends up stigmatizing sex work at large and ultimately makes life more dangerous for all sex workers.

The bottom line is that nobody should have to worry about or be afraid of unwanted sexual acts, which, again, constitute sexual assault. But with anti-sex work political agendas being pushed at all levels of society and government, the complicated intersections of porn and sexuality — not to mention the complexity of both as discrete categories — often gets left in the dust.

As the researchers noted in their Scientific American interview, there’s much more study necessary to map out the complex factors leading to this downturn in sexual activity. Regardless, though, sensitivity to both sexual desires and fears should be paramount.

Read more: People Have Been Having Less Sex—whether They’re Teenagers or 40-Somethings [Scientific American]

More on sex: The Era of Sex for Reproduction Is Coming to an End, Says Author


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