No One Has (or Should Have) a “Right to Sex”

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Let’s talk about sex! Oh, but not in, like, a fun and sexy way. I mean in a way that will involve scientific research, bad takes on Twitter, and Latin phrases like post hoc ergo propter hoc. I’m really fun at parties, you guys.

Okay, here’s the thread that inspired today’s video: Alexandra D. Hunt, a “public health activist,” recently tweeted a thread that began with “Young men aren’t having sex!

Nearly a third of men under 30 have not had sex. And a higher percent do not have as much sex as they’d like – not exactly surprising, but this kind of statistic is a sign of much deeper problems.”

And she supported this statement with a graph that, to jump straight into things, makes it clear that she is already wrong. The graph very obviously states that it shows the “share of men and women between ages 18 nd 30 reporting no sex IN THE PAST YEAR.” Not “ever.” She doesn’t cite or link to the article she got this graph from but luckily the screenshot also shows that the source is the General Social Survey as published in the Washington Post, so a quick search led me to find it: an article from March of 2019 titled “The share of Americans not having sex has reached a record high.” As always, everything I talk about in all my videos is linked in the transcript, which you can find on my patreon, linked in the description below!

Neither the chart Hunt screenshot nor the article it comes from supports any of her assertions past the vague “young men aren’t have sex.” It’s not “nearly a third,” it’s 28% which is more like a quarter; it’s not that they haven’t had sex, it’s just in the past year; there’s no data in there to suggest that a “higher percentage do not have as much sex as they’d like” (in fact, last year a poll by Match found that “81% of men say they now find sex less important than they did pre-pandemic”) and there’s no data that says “this kind of statistic is a sign of much deeper problems.”

But as wrong as that first Tweet was, I regret to inform you that she decided to turn it into a whole ass thread, and she actually makes things worse. 

“Our society criminalizes sex & sweeps it under the rug. The consequences are straightforward – there is more violence. Since platforms like Craigslist were banned from advertising sex, serious violent crimes against all women – not just sex workers – has increased by nearly ?”

Sigh. So…first of all, she doesn’t include any citation for this, and I spent a good hour of my day trying to find any data to suggest that violent crimes against all women have increased by 20% since 2010, when Craigslist shut down their sex worker ads. In fact, most sources seem to agree that violence against women had been decreasing, at least in the US where “Rates of sexual violence in the United States, whether measured by arrest or victimization, have declined by over 50 percent over the last 20 years…the rape and sexual assault victimization rate dropped from over four per 1,000 (age 12 and older) in 1993 to about 1.3 per 1,000 in 2012. And, if you add up all the intimate partner violence (including all rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault committed by spouses, boyfriends, or girlfriends), the rate has dropped from almost 10 per 1,000 in 1994 to 3.2 per 1,000 in 2012.”

That is, up until COVID-19, at which point the United Nations did predict an increase of 20% more cases of domestic violence worldwide. But, again, that wasn’t due to Craigslist, it was due to COVID. And it was a prediction, not actual data.

Here’s our first taste of post hoc ergo propter hoc: just because one thing happened and then another thing happened, it doesn’t mean the first thing caused the second thing. And it’s not even clear that the second thing even happened.

Still, she persisted:

“And men who do not have sex suffer – they are less likely to be a part of the labor force, and more likely to experience depression, nihilism, and other mental health issues.”

Ah, we’ve arrived at the all-time classic, “correlation does not equal causation.” Again, she cites no sources and I couldn’t find any source, but let’s say she’s correct, and men who haven’t had sex (in the past year) are more likely to experience mental health issues. How do we know that the mental health issues don’t lead to the lack of sex? Depression and anxiety are barriers to finding and keeping a romantic partner, which is the first step in, you know, having sex with someone.

She goes on:

“The #MeToo movement accomplished so much, & we have to take the next step – normalizing having healthy, positive, consensual sex. Decriminalizing sex work, funding sex education, & creating outreach programs that help young people develop healthy sexual habits.”

Incredibly, she finally posted one tweet that was completely correct. Congrats to her. But this has nothing to do with the “problem” of young men not having sex. Well, not in the way she seems to think: some experts think that one reason young men aren’t having as much sex is because of the success of #MeToo and comprehensive sexual education that emphasizes consent. Young women have higher standards, better self-esteem, and a better understanding of what they want. Maybe men simply haven’t caught up yet.

Despite everything she says being more or less correct, this Tweet suddenly referencing sex work is the first hint that Hunt is about to get very dark and very wrong. Prepare yourselves:

“We should be moving toward a right to sex. People should be able to have sex when they feel they want to, and we need to develop services that meet people’s needs without attaching the baggage of shame or criminalization.”

YIKES. Yikes!!!!! “Right to sex” is not thing that any serious person should ever champion. NO ONE DESERVES SEX. There are so many things wrong with this that I’m a bit stumped on where to start. But let’s go with this: the line of logic Hunt has laid out says that lack of sex drives men to violence, and so these violent men should be permitted to be serviced by sex workers so that they will not kill the rest of us. I just…fucking christ. 

Part of the problem here is in how we think about “incels.” Incels, or involuntary celibates, have become a community of angry boys and men (though the term was originally coined by a sexless woman), and these angry boys and men have created an echo chamber where they hype each other up to hate women, to abuse women, and sometimes to kill women. I can’t believe I have to say this but: the problem isn’t the lack of sex. The problem is the hatred of women, and men abuse and murder women regardless of whether they can get sex. There’s a reason why we have an entire category of violence against women known as “intimate partner violence.” Those intimate partners GET SEX. SEX IS NOT THE PROBLEM. There’s a reason why we consider sex workers to be particularly at risk of violence at the hands of men. Hint: it’s not because the sex workers aren’t giving the men sex. SEX IS NOT THE PROBLEM.

And even if we lived in a magical world where giving men sex made them less likely to murder us, we shouldn’t sit back and expect sex workers to take on the job of fucking sociopaths to keep them peaceful. Jesus.

As I mentioned in my video earlier this year on incel terrorism, researchers have found that the love of violence is rooted in things like “reinforcing masculinity through misogyny.” Masculinity is extremely important to incels, and they see sex and violence against women as the two biggest markers of masculinity. Giving them sex doesn’t remove violence as an additional marker of masculinity.

Yes, we should decriminalize sex work, but we should do it to protect sex workers, not to fuck the misogyny out of incels.

To conclude, let me just go back to the Washington Post article that Hunt fails to link to and apparently failed to read: it notes that the drop in young men having sex began in 2008, and let’s see, that was so long ago I forget what happened so let me just Google “what happened in 2008” and just read the top result word for word:

“The 2008 financial crisis began with cheap credit and lax lending standards that fueled a housing bubble. When the bubble burst, the banks were left holding trillions of dollars of worthless investments in subprime mortgages. The Great Recession that followed cost many their jobs, their savings, and their homes.”

Yeah, that’s the year a whole bunch of people (the majority being young men) had to move back in with their boomer parents, and let me just say as a woman who enjoys having sex with men, you know what’s kind of a horn kill? The guy’s mom popping her head in to see if we’d like snacks and Sunny Ds. A poster of Pam Anderson in Baywatch over the bed. A Sega Genesis with one off-brand controller where the “x” button is busted.

The downturn also led to a lot of job losses, and sure enough, someone dug into the data from the General Social Survey and found that the men who weren’t having sex were significantly more likely to be “either a) students, b) unemployed, or c) partially-employed and/or low-earners.”

He also found that the biggest driver of sexlessness in young men was if they stated they weren’t married. That jibes with data showing that the age of first marriage in the US has been steadily rising throughout history: men in 1980 tended to be married by 24, while last year the tended to wait until at least 30. Let me tell you, the “sexless marriage” jokes are dead wrong: being married is actually a very good way to have frequent access to sex.

All that aside, I DO think our society is facing a problem with men who feel disaffected, lonely, and disconnected from society. We have an unacceptably large population of men who we have failed to prepare to live in 2022: to understand and deal with their own emotions, to take care of their lives without a maternal presence, to form healthy relationships with others, and to see women as fully functioning human beings. And those are the men who are most likely to fall into these echo chambers where they substitute all of that with hate and violence. Addressing that problem is going to take a lot more than “just” decriminalizing sex work.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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