People in France are having much less sex now than in previous decades, a new poll has found, in an effect that is particularly affecting young people.
The poll by Ifop* - carried out in January and published on February 6 - found that 76% of respondents said they had had a sexual encounter over the past 12 months. This is the lowest number in the past 50 years, Ifop said.
Similarly, 40% of people said that they have sex an average of once a week, down from 60% who said the same 15 years ago.
Young people appear to be especially affected; more than 25% of people aged 18-25 said that they had not had a sexual encounter in the past year. This figure is five times lower than the number seen 20 years ago.
Half of 18-25s said that they had sex an average of once a week; a number considerably below that of people aged 25-50.
Why are people in France having less sex?
Reduced ‘marital duty’
The polling agency said the figures showed an “increasingly marked” disinterest in sex overall, and that people in France are less likely now to “force” themselves to have sex when they do not want to - as a form of “marital duty” - in comparison to previous decades.
While half of women (50%) still say that they have recently had sex “even if they did not feel like it”, this figure is much lower than 40 years ago, when 80% of women said the same. Just under half of men (46%) said they had recently had sex even if they did not particularly feel like it.
Ifop also suggested that the figures should be seen “in the context of a growing dissociation between marriage and sexuality”.
More than half (54%) of women, and more than two-fifths (42%) of men, said that they could continue to live with a partner in a purely platonic relationship. Already, 25% said that they no longer have physical intimacy with their partner.
"While marital duty has not completely disappeared, this survey highlights the growing proportion of people in France who are managing to free themselves from a certain 'sexual normality',” said François Kraus, director of Ifop's gender, sexuality and sexual health unit.
“[They are] particularly freeing themselves from the social pressure that says that a couple must have an extremely active sex life,” he said.
Less societal pressure
The study also “highlights the gap between the sexual reality of media stereotypes about the French” and the idea that “a good sex life” necessarily means “a hectic sex life”, said Mr Kraus.
The previous “hypersexualisation of society” is being replaced by a generation that is much less likely to have sex to please someone else, in order to be “like everyone else”, or because they think they have to in order to have a successful relationship and life.
"In a cultural context of the rejection of dictates weighing on the body and intimacy, a growing number of men and women in France seem to be freeing themselves from the expectations that say that active sexuality must be an essential component of a successful life or, at any rate, of a harmonious life as a couple,” said Mr Kraus.
More screen time
Ifop has suggested that “competition from digital activities” has led to a less intense sex life for many in comparison to before the age of smartphones and broadband.
This includes “time spent on screens”, Ifop said, and is also due to the fact that screens can “satisfy people’s social and/or sexual needs” and “cannibalise time spent with someone else", added Mr Kraus.
Of people aged 35 living with a partner in the same house, 50% of men and 42% of women said that they had previously “avoided sexual relations in order to watch a series or a film”. The same percentage of men said that they had done the same with video games and social media.
Men are twice as likely as women (60% vs 30% respectively) to say that a lack of sex over a long period of time is much more of a problem than for women.
Similarly, six in 10 women in France said that sex is important to them, down from more than eight in 10 three decades ago.
*The Ifop survey for Lelo was carried out by online questionnaire from December 29, 2023 to January 2, 2024 among a sample of 1,911 people, representative of the French population aged 18 and over.