Opinion: We’re hanging up on intimacy

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Are you having sex?

No, no, calm down a second …

I don’t mean NOW!

The question here is whether or not you’re having sex, um …

Generally?

Kind of regularly, maybe?

This may all sound like the beginning of a “giggle” column, but it’s actually aimed at a serious subject.

If you wanted some laughs and winks, ah …

Sorry.

The matter of sex — who’s having it, how often, at what age and so on — has become something of a critical issue across the United States, and therefore right here at home.

Let’s start with the fact that the U.S. birth rate has been falling consistently and dangerously.

New statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show that births are down 3 percent just since 2016 — hitting an all-time low — and we’ve reached a critical point.

We’re below replacement level.

You don’t have to be a mathematician to know that years and years of fewer births, along with rising death rates from suicide and drug addiction, eventually will produce some unpleasant societal consequences — like an inadequate labor force, for instance.

Japan has gone through this cycle, and it slaughtered the economy along with many traditional family ties.

SURE, YOU might look at those birth rate numbers and think: “Well, this is a pretty permissive era with porn everywhere you look and so forth. Surely everyone is still having sex.

“People must be practicing more birth control, perhaps because there are so many families with both parents working. It’s got to be something like that.”

If that’s what you suspect, you’re partially right, but …

You’re wrong on the issue of sex.

Americans are NOT having as much sex these days.

The numbers, from study after study, show that there’s a noticeable drop in sexual encounters going on through every age range (yes, including teens), and across every socioeconomic group.

Social scientists, university professors and other experts have been trying to understand what’s going on.

This trend of decreasing sex started in the late 1990s, and at first, everyone from clergy to parents to civic leaders applauded what was happening.

In 1997, the United States had its highest number of births to unwed (or unattached) teenage mothers.

But since then, the number of teens who said they’d had intercourse by age 17 has fallen.

And then fallen even more.

The weird thing is that SOUNDS like a good situation for our children and the nation, except that these kids’ lack of intimacy now is continuing right into adulthood.

For instance, millennials should be married or in relationships, and having sex, right?

These are people roughly aged 22 through 37, and if someone is going to start families, here are your obvious candidates.

IF YOU remember much about your early lessons regarding birds and bees, it’s not much of a leap from less sex to fewer babies.

All sorts of reasons have been tossed out to explain why sex seems to be less important now, but Coeur d’Alene-based social worker and therapist Barbara Mace-Tucker thinks she’s following the right clues.

Mace-Tucker says she’s not surprised by the drop in sex, and suggests we focus on the time frame.

“The years involved coincide with the digital world, the internet, smartphones and all of that,” she said. “Our plugged-in society is drifting away from person-to-person interaction.

“The result, looking at the big picture, is going to be less connection, less intimacy, and you just take it from there.”

Mace-Tucker said she has counseled married couples who have sat in her office with their smartphones humming.

“Not just one, but both of them,” she said. “They’re in a therapist’s office for help with their relationship, and they ignore each other — and me, obviously — to stare at their phones.”

ANY MAJOR trend in society that pushes people apart, Mace-Tucker said, will harm their chances at closeness and any kind of romantic engagement.

As a county and region, if we insist on keeping our relationships between ourselves and our digital gadgets, our long-term future begins to look bleak.

This isn’t the place to end an important discussion, obviously, so in Saturday’s column, we’ll listen to some of Mace-Tucker’s suggestions for reversing a very distressing trend.

She’d like to see us handling our lives a bit differently, and unloading some problems in the bargain.

As she put it: “Besides everything else, it would help if people got back to having fun with each other instead of their phones.”

And yeah, she was talking about sex.

Among other things.

•••

Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.

A Brand New Day appears from Wednesday through Saturday each week.

Steve’s column on Gonzaga basketball runs on Tuesday.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com

Facebook: BrandNewDayCDAPress

Twitter: @BrandNewDayCDA

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