In a guest editorial at the journal of Bioethics, Joona Räsänen of Aarhus University discusses the possibility of sexual loneliness as a neglected public health problem.
A recent study found that between the years 2000-2002 and 2016-2018, the proportion of men between ages 18-24 who reported no sexual activity over the past year increased from roughly 19% to 31%. However, this trend did not apply to women. A similar pattern has been confirmed in other research as well.
Despite this trend among men, there is also another pattern at play; there is a category of men who report having more sexual partners than previously observed. According to the National Survey of Family Growth, as of 2002 the most sexually active top 5% of American heterosexual men had 38 lifetime partners; but as of 2012, that number had become 50. During this decade, no change in the number of lifetime sex partners was found for heterosexual women.
Räsänen writes, “The 5% is  having half the (penile–vaginal) sex in the world.” In applying the Gini index – a measure of income inequality – it is seen that the distribution of lifetime sex partners for both men and women is as unequal as the wealth distribution in the countries with the largest economic disparities (i.e., South Africa, Namibia).
The author argues that sexual inaccessibility could present a concern for public health, given the mental and physical health benefits that accompany sexual activity. Studies show that sexual loneliness has a negative impact on self-esteem and mood among both men and women. This might manifest as anger and aggression among men; consider that the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center stated that there is a growing terrorism threat from men who self-identify as “involuntary celibates.”
However, this pattern of sexual loneliness is not unique to the United States. For example, in Finland, the number of men who have difficulty in finding a partner has doubled from 1992 to 2015. Intuitively, dating apps such as Tinder may seem like an efficient strategy of mating – but, the divide of “winners” and “losers” becomes that much more jarring in the online world.
Räsänen highlights a point made by Jordan Peterson, that sexual loneliness could be alleviated by promoting monogamy. The role of philosophical bioethicists like Räsänen then becomes to analyze such claims for their logical consistency and conceptual coherence.
The guest editorial, “Sexual loneliness: A neglected public health problem?”, was authored by Joona Räsänen.