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A recent Pew Research study suggests a tectonic shift in the dating and sex life of men. The study found that among men under 30 years old, over 60 percent are single, almost double that of women in the same age bracket.
Not only are more young men single but their opportunities for developing a relational and sexual repertoire have all but vanished, as levels of sexual intimacy across genders appear to have hit a 30-year low (Lei & South, 2021).
Things are not what they once were.
Heterosexual men, from elder millennials to boomers, traversed young adulthood at a time when sexual intimacy was a common pathway toward attachment with women actively seeking a romantic partner.
Men could reliably depend on women’s disproportionate investment in emotional and sexual attachment. Traditional masculine gender scripts, with a tendency toward avoidance of attachment, were suboptimal but functional in this constellation of relationship dynamics (Schwartz et al, 2004).
However, the pandemic disrupted the status quo in college-aged daters and accelerated women’s re-prioritization away from intimacy and toward academic, professional, and financial goals (Lei & South, 2021).
As young women continued to pursue intimate relationships less intently post-pandemic, men could have increased their relationship skills to close the effort gap. They could have confronted their relative avoidance and challenged the gender norms that made them so anxious about intimacy.
They appear to have done the opposite, turning even further away from real-life relationships and into the virtual world.
In a recent interview with The Hill, psychologist and masculinity researcher Fred Rabinowitz, of the University of Redlands, pointed to pandemic-era adaptations that have lost their utility. He suggested that young men “are watching a lot of social media, they’re watching a lot of porn, and I think they’re getting a lot of their needs met without having to go out.”
Young men are, in fact, watching a lot of porn. Data from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Italy suggest between 76-87 percent of 18- to 29-year-old men are consuming porn regularly.
One notable finding is that men who use porn more often tend to report less satisfaction with real-life sex (Dwulit & Rzymski, 2019). Even more concerning is a rise in psychogenic-related erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation, and diminished libido in men under 40 years old associated with frequent porn use (Park et al., 2016).
Faced with the choice between an energy-intensive, highly competitive dating environment and the low-effort rewards of porn, young men appear to be taking the path of least resistance.
These choices will have lasting relational consequences as young men have fewer dating opportunities to develop real-life intimacy skills and competency.
The good news is that all of these young single men can choose differently. They can choose to focus on developing the necessary relationship skills to be more successful in dating. It starts with re-prioritizing the development of close, intimate relationships in their life for their own well-being and as a counterbalance to the shift in priorities for women.
They must do this to reach their fullest potential whether or not they have had great male role models illustrating these efforts.
By no means will dating in 2023 be an emotionally painless process, particularly for heterosexual men who are attempting to date women. Rejection may be a far more common result given competitiveness and higher relationship standards. Therefore, young men must be inoculated to avoidance in their dating life by normalizing women’s selectiveness.
Young men simply do not have an option but to counteract a generational inclination toward avoidance and withdrawal. Avoidance perpetuates avoidance and that is the last thing 20-something-year-old men need right now in their life.
Brief therapy or relational coaching can counteract avoidance and offer young men meaningful communication as well as emotional and sexual intimacy skills.
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Lastly, it is unclear whether porn use is currently satisfying the sexual appetite of single Generation Z men, as some suggest, but absolutely clear that young men are watching a lot of porn. That high level of consumption from their pre-teens to their 20s is having a negative impact on the sexual health and satisfaction of a generation.
As the pandemic recedes, it is past time for young men to step away from their devices and into real-life dating situations. It is time to brave rejection for a chance at a romantic relationship and reach their fullest potential.
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