A Digital Decade: Sex

Before there were dating apps, there were dating sites. The kind where people who couldn’t find love in real life experimented with posting romance dissertations and low-res photos.

OkCupid in 2004

It was a dark time in those early aughts. The term ‘online dating’ made people squirm as much as words like “moist” and “spam.” Now, online dating has become ubiquitous, and about 40,000 couples will have their first date tonight thanks to OkCupid.

There have been a lot of dating sites and apps since 2004

Obviously, OkCupid isn’t alone in the market. But we are unique in that we’ve been collecting data from personal match questions since we launched. So, ten years later in a dating terrain that’s more digital than ever, how are people behaving? How have views on sex, gender and dating changed? To find out, we surveyed roughly one million users who responded to match questions in 2015, then compared those answers to results from 2010 and 2005.

Casually conservative

Sex is a common thread in the dating game. Well, it’s more of a large, unbreakable rope. The point is: dating apps and sex are inherently linked, so naturally that piqued our interest. We looked at responses to questions about sex to see what’s changed.

QUESTION

Would you consider sleeping with someone on the first date?

  • Yes
  • No
2005
2015

People are 19 percent less likely to consider sleeping with someone on the first date compared to ten years ago, with significant drops in every gender and orientation. Only one in four straight women said “yes” compared to almost 50 percent in 2005, and we see the biggest drop in gay men (-26 percent).

Would you consider sleeping with someone on the first date?

People who answered “Yes”

  • 2005
  • 2015

Whoa. Let’s surmise for a second that casual sex is, generally, more accessible than it was in 2005. Maybe that’s rash to say, but look at where we are—casual sex permeates the media to a point where it feels more normal than not. What’s more, smartphones are ever-present, always-on portals to finding someone to hook up with. Yet ten years later, we’re much less hasty to jump the gun.

Since people aren’t leaning toward sex on date one, we tried a different angle.

QUESTION

Would you date someone just for the sex?

  • Yes
  • No
2005
2015

Men

  • Yes
  • No
2005
2015

Women

  • Yes
  • No
2005
2015

All genders and orientations

People who answered “Yes”

  • 2005
  • 2015

Not only are people less likely to sleep with someone on the first date—dating someone only for sex is also less appealing. Perhaps that means that sex alone isn’t enough anymore, and people are becoming more discerning about their sexual behavior and relationship desires. In fact, people are more concerned with love than sex by almost a 50 percent margin—with no change from 2005 to 2015.

QUESTION

Regardless of future plans, what's more interesting to you right now?

  • Love
  • Sex
2005
2015

At this point, we’re wondering how in a culture where casual sex is commonplace, online daters are less interested in it. During our head-scratching, however, we did find that we’re more progressive when it comes to number of partners.

QUESTION

Is there such thing as having too many sex partners?

  • Yes
  • No
2005
2015

Good news, sexually active folks. If you were concerned about being judged on your number, take heart. People don’t care as much as they used to (but they still care).

All genders and orientations

People who answered “Yes”

  • 2005
  • 2015

Zoom in on straight women. Their results show a healthy drop, but their 2015 views are still pretty reserved. The topic of ‘numbers’ is still a conversation to be had, even today. Why are straight women so concerned?

Here’s a little insight. For a 2005 slice of life, take a look at this article, and enjoy that perfectly topical reference to low slung jeans. Also, this quote:

“I know a lot of people who will go home with the same guy they have before just because it's not going to raise their number.”
— a 26-year-old publicist, 2005

According to this post Sex and the City exposé, your number of partners really was a topic of judgment for reasons that manifested from, according to this story, the past. Or the Bush administration.

So far we’ve found that in 2015, people are more conservative when it comes to sex just for sex, but less so when it comes to number of partners. Call it casually conservative or conservatively casual, we’re refining ourselves. Guess you could say…Mission accomplished.

Gender differences

After staring at this data for a while, we discovered an outlying group: straight women. Almost exclusively, they’re the most modest in their answers. These next few questions go a little deeper into how straight women feel about themselves and gender norms.

QUESTION

Is it okay for a woman to talk openly about her sexual exploits?

  • Yes
  • No
2005
2015

Collectively, people are 15 percent less critical about women talking about their sex lives. That’s a pretty significant achievement, and it makes sense. For decades, the conversation about women’s sexuality and gender has gained momentum in media and politics. Thanks to the plight of outspoken organizations and feminists, people are realizing that it is something that’s perfectly okay (and really important) to talk about, even if they’re not discussing it correctly. Keep trying, boys.

Though, take a look at how different groups answer this.

Is it okay for a woman to talk openly about her sexual exploits?

People who answered “Yes”

  • 2005
  • 2015

Turns out that straight women are the harshest critics of themselves. 22 percent of straight women still don’t think it’s okay to openly talk about sexual exploits, while gay women are the most accepting. For men, they’re all more open to women talking about sex, regardless of their orientation.

Speaking of gender differences, both straight men and women still exhibit some stereotypical views on friends with benefits.

QUESTION

Would you ever consider having a friendship based primarily on sex, with no intentions for love, romance, or long-term commitment?

  • Yes
  • No
2010
2015

People who answered “Yes”

  • 2010
  • 2015

Time to throw in your hats, guys. Since 2010, more males are interested in this kind of relationship, while females rose a measly three percent. At least now you know what most women aren’t looking for.

Another norm that’s gained popularity in 2015? Gender roles in the bedroom.

QUESTION

In your ideal sexual encounter, do you take control, or do they?

People who answered “I take control”

  • 2005
  • 2015

Straight men’s numbers rose 25 percent, while straight women, again, stayed relatively the same with pretty low percentages. Interestingly, there was a notable rise in lesbians wanting to take control. Are straight people really settling into a sexual dynamic?

How important is sex?

The short answer: very. One thing people agree on, regardless of their gender and orientation, is that as people become more selective about who they date, sex becomes more important.

Remember how we found out that people are less likely to sleep with someone on the first date? Here’s when people actually prefer to have sex.

QUESTION

Say you've started seeing someone you really like. As far as you're concerned, how long will it take before you have sex?

  • 2005
  • 2015

The three-date rule stands strong. We see an increase in both 1-2 dates as well as 3-5, and a drop in 6 or more dates and after the wedding. Basically, we’re less likely to rush into sex on the first date, but when we like someone, we’re less likely to wait. When you know, you know, right?

When we bring marriage into the equation, we see that premarital relations are more than welcome.

QUESTION

Would you need to sleep with someone before you considered marrying them?

  • Yes
  • No
2005
2015

Everyone agrees: sex matters. What’s more—not only do people need to sleep with someone first, but it’s got to be the most sexually satisfying relationship they’ve ever had. No pressure.

QUESTION

If you're in a relationship you expect will last for the rest of your life, is it important to you that it be the most satisfying sexual relationship you have ever had?

People who answered “Yes”

  • 2005
  • 2015

While we saw the biggest jump in straight men’s responses, women overall are more likely to want their forever-relationship to be the most sexually satisfying. As conservative as straight women have been in this entire report, they’re actually the most concerned. So in the long run, no matter your gender or orientation, you better bring your A-game.

Dating in the 21st century

Our attitudes toward sex and dating have changed alongside the advent of the dating app boom. And while casual sex is more available via dating apps, and arguably more apparent in popular culture than it was a decade ago, that doesn’t mean people don’t want depth in their relationships.

Dating culture is evolving. It could even be maturing. Have dating apps directly affected our behavior? We can’t say for certain. But we can say that we’re more thoughtful in our sexual behavior, and more progressive when it comes to attitudes. That’s not a bad place to be.

Want to be a part of this report, and future ones? Sign up for OkCupid.