June 12, 2012

Yet more signs of the re-segregation of the sexes

Picking up from here, let's start with something quantitative, then move on to two qualitative cases.

3. Less frequent sex within marriage

From all the examples of greater cocooning I've gone over, you might expect that what used to take place among people who were more loosely connected has simply moved into closer relationships. So boys and girls don't hang out with each other as much, don't slow dance, etc. -- maybe that just means that there's less sex going on outside of a monogamous relationship. But once you get married, then you've got it made in the shade, right?

Well, that's become less and less true over the past 20 years.

The General Social Survey asks people how often they had sex in the past year. I restricted the answers to people who were married, white, and aged 18-35. So, these respondents' hormones should still be in good-to-excellent working order, and their marriage should guarantee sexual access. Then I lumped responses into three easier to look at categories: "rarely" is not at all, 1 or 2 times, or 12 times during the last year; "moderately" is 2-3 times per month or weekly; and "frequently" is 2-3 times or 4+ times per week.

Here is how often youngish married people had sex over the past 20-odd years, with the red bars showing "rarely", the blue bars showing "moderately" (maybe that color should've gone to the "rarely" group...), and the green bars showing "frequently".

The rarely group was under 5% in 1989-'90, and rose to 13% by 2010. The frequently group was at or above 50% in '89-'90, and fell to 38% by 2010. The moderately group shows no real change.

Even people who are not just in a monogamous relationship but are actually married, and who are somewhat young and presumably horny, have steadily withdrawn physically from each other over the past 20 years. True, we haven't entered bizarro world where they don't do anything ever, but you'd expect this group to be very resilient to cocooning trends. The fact that even they have been noticeably affected by it shows how pervasive the change has been -- just pull away from everyone.

4. The cuddle party

This is not at all a common event; it made headlines in the mid-2000s and now appears to be an even more fringe phenomenon. Still it's worth considering because there was nothing like this at all in the good old days, and the very idea would have been laughed at.

Basically a bunch of people show up to a cuddle party to touch and be touched, but not in a sexual way, and only after explicitly asking and receiving consent for each touch, and all supervised by a busybody "facilitator". (You wonder if these people needed a facilitator to guide them through their first kiss or what.) It's supposed to improve your communication about touching, and provide you with the Platonic touch that has become less common.

How is this an example of greater cocooning, then? Sounds like they want to reach out and touch someone, in however awkward of a way. First, their prohibitions -- also including one against wearing shorts -- reflect the profound distrust that everyone present has toward everyone else. Normal, trusting interactions don't need long lists of explicit rules and facilitators to intervene if they're broken.

That's common sense that even adolescents used to understand. For slow dances at school functions, if anything you told the chaperons to go "mind your own beeswax," and you didn't hammer out a list of rules beforehand.

Not surprisingly, as detailed in a female testimonial, cuddle parties are where females go to get showered with free attention without facing the risk of being asked to make-out. The guys are sex-starved dorks who are frightened of being in a situation where they might actually have to make a move on a girl. Both parties are relieved to not have to let their guard down and try to truly connect with another person, and they get in a bit of Platonic touching to boot, albeit regulated and supervised like they were a toddler on a play date.

5. The rise of the "non-boyfriend"

I thought I had coined this term myself, referring to guys who appear to be the boyfriend of some girl, but are actually being denied full status in one way or another. But then I heard others already using it -- all Millennials -- so I looked it up on Urban Dictionary, and there it is. I wasn't the only one to notice this pattern.

Getting it straight from the horse's mouth, here is a Millennial chick discussing the phenomenon from personal experience, along with over 100 comments from other Millennials mostly agreeing with her. She notes that a non-boyfriend is, if anything, the complete opposite of "friends with benefits" (i.e., no-strings sex between acquaintances). It stops short of any physical activity, and is basically the girl stringing along the guy to do all the other boyfriend activities besides making out and getting it on. And the guy is content to be her emotional tampon.

He's the guy you go out to dinner with twice a week, she's the girl you vent to and go to concerts with. Yet the other person isn't aware that you've dubbed him/her your non-whatever, or you guys have been friends for too long to become an actual couple. You're free to date other people, but you don't really want to because of your feelings for this person.

I wonder if they'll make a new heading for the gift card aisle -- "From Your Non-Whatever".

The weird thing is that unlike "Platonic friends," they're probably attracted to each other, hang out, etc., but are just too wimpy to move forward. They're paralyzed, too afraid to just open up and let the other person in. With Platonic friends, one or both just isn't into the other. The non-boyfriend, however, is someone she's kind of interested in, and should be dating in a normal world, but she won't let it progress.

It's like the dating version of the "less sex within marriage" example above. And as in the other examples, it's the females who are holding back more. There are nearly twice as many Google results for "non-boyfriend" (72,000) than for "non-girlfriend", and most of the comments to the above post are about non-boyfriends, whether from the girl's side or the non-boyfriend's side.

Both the writer and the commenters are incredibly fatalistic about it, too. There's just some set of forces or circumstances that won't let the non-dating move on to actual dating, and though they may not like it, there's nothing they can do about it. Lack of trust in others and social avoidance lead to this kind of hopeless fatalism, which is high enough in the general population, but is the norm among Millennials.

All three cases here show that you have to be careful when comparing behaviors over time that go by the same name. "Getting a phone number" used to mean you'd eventually meet up and likely do something, whereas now it tends to mean get stuck on a texting treadmill. "Marriage" for young people used to mean "enjoy your exclusive sexual access," whereas now it means she putters around with the panini press while he cocoons in his man-cave. And "boyfriend" used to imply you were at least holding hands, kissing, maybe more, whereas now a girl may well in fact mean "non-boyfriend." I even heard one girl correct another who referred to "my boyfriend" -- "uh, you mean your NON-boyfriend..."

It's a sick twisted world, but give it a decade or so and the pendulum will be swinging back in the other direction, as it has before. In the meantime, try to find the minority who aren't cocooning weirdos and enjoy each other's company.

GSS variables used: sexfreq, year, marital, age, race


  1. The GSS table is extremely interesting. You don't often get one with such a clear trend, especially for things involving sex.

  2. If they're the minority, wouldn't that make them the weirdos?

  3. If the world were majority homos and lepers, it would still be a world full of weirdos.

    Normal vs. freak is not numerical but natural.

  4. I'd say the non-boyfriend is more a result of lack of social support. Assymetrical men and women have been given the kinds of opportunities they wouldn't have in a rising-crimes community, and they are doing their best to sabotage attractive people actually connecting with and having sex with each other(though it still happens, obviously).

    For instance, how many times have you seen a beautiful girl who is bullied and managed by her ugly "best friend"? That kind of thing seems a recent phenonmenon. It certainly wasn't portrayed in 80s media, though I'd guess you'd have to talk to someone who was a teenager during the period.

    Needless to say also, frat parties

  5. In other words, a "non-boyfriend" relationship is a way for two attractive people to secretly have sex with each other, with out risking social condemnation from their uglier, jealous peers.

  6. Ever try to genuinely talk to a girl at a frat party? Such parties are specifically designed to prevent that from happening.

    Fratters are, of course, the sons of the elite, so they can't tolerate assortative mating absed on physical attractiveness. They would lose too much.

  7. Apparently violent crime is rising in small towns. So small-towners are still "out and about".

  8. At least from the way that these girls who have non-boyfriends describe it anonymously online, where they have no fear of harassment from their friends, they aren't sexually involved at all, not even making out.

    So it seems not so much like a secret way to have sex, but just a delaying of sex until... well, forever, perhaps. But to get some minimum of ego validation in the meantime.

    The ugly cockblocking friend is definitely new, and it is ubiquitous. Actually, she isn't always even that ugly. Lots of girls get pulled away from boys at '80s night every week, and typically it's another plain-to-pretty-looking chick.

    Girls are just a lot more conformist about what their chick friends think and do nowadays. Before, they would've told them to mind their own business or find a boy of their own.

    Grace Jones did an awesome cover in the '80s of "Use Me," originally by a male singer. The basic message is I don't care what my friends think, always trying to tell me that you're just using me -- "well if it feels this good, then use."

    Plenty of movies back then showed girls dating and doing things with boys who their friends don't find to be date-worthy material. Jennifer Jason Leigh's character in Fast Times, Winona Ryder's character in Heathers, Tina in Nightmare on Elm Street, Ariel in Footloose...

  9. Frat life wasn't big at my college, when I was in college, so I only went infrequently. Wasn't very interesting. I think they must be worse now, based on what I've seen going on around frat row on the weekends. Mostly the video game crew chatting outside, getting drunk inside.

    Seems like people have moved more toward smaller house parties, part of the cocooning trend. Frat parties as the go-to place used to be typical from Animal House through Heathers.


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