Americans are having less sex — and helicopter parenting is partly to blame

Over-protective parents may be spending too much time parenting to have any alone time with one another, a new survey suggests. Getty Images/Sean Gallup

Compared to the early 1990s, Americans in 2014 had sex nine fewer times per year, on average, new survey data show.

A surplus of time-strapped, over-anxious parents could be a major reason why.

In a report published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour, data from more than 26,000 people showed longer work hours and the use of pornography didn’t correlate with the decline in sexual activity. Nor did factors like gender, race, income, or level of education. Instead, trends toward helicopter parenting and a growing body of unmarried people seem to be the deciding factors.

“We’re seeing more helicopter parenting, which is zapping energy that could go toward sex and other sensual activities,” sexuality counselor Eric Marlowe Garrison, who was not involved with the survey, told CNN.

The term “helicopter parent” was coined in 1990, by child development researchers Foster Cline and Jim Fay. It refers to a parent who prefers to monitor their child’s behaviour in nearly all aspects of their life, from chores to playtime to schoolwork — typically, to allay the parent’s fears of harm or failure.

Burdened by these concerns, parents seem to have replaced personal time with parenting time, the new survey data suggests. Kids that were once free to roam their neighbourhoods unsupervised now go on sanitised, structured playdates.

Data also seemed to support falling rates of sexual activity among younger, unmarried people. Millennials are the largest generation in the US, and research has found many people are delaying marriage. Unmarried people naturally tend to have less sex, report investigators from the latest study, so it would make sense for sexual activity to fall in parallel.

Some research indicates the growing prevalence of smartphones has made sex less appealing for younger generations accustomed to scrolling by their lonesome.

As part of a larger trend, the US is currently forming into what economists have called a “demographic time bomb.” It’s the vicious cycle of low fertility rates combined with decreasing spending. As families feel presure to save money, they avoid having kids, which produces smaller future generations.

In the most extreme cases, such as Japan’s, the population can actually start declining.

US families haven’t created quite that scenario in their own country, but the new survey data don’t offer much optimism to suggest families will reverse trends anytime soon. At least, not until parents decide to give kids a longer leash.