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The author of ‘Sex and the City’ thinks people no longer have the attention span for 'proper' 20-minute sex, and it's contributing to a sex recession

Anna Medaris Miller , Business Insider US
 Aug 12, 2019, 09:33 PM
Conversations used to happen more readily in real life.
HBO
  • Candace Bushnell, the writer behind the TV series "Sex and the City," has a new book called "Is There Still Sex in the City?"
  • It's based on her experiences reentering the dating scene in middle age.
  • Bushnell told Insider "the most shocking difference" between dating today and a few decades ago is how technology has changed the way people interact in real life.
  • She also said people's attention spans are so short they can't seem to find the time to have sex for 20 minutes.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA.

When Candace Bushnell was single in her 20s, meeting prospective romantic partners was relatively straightforward: Go to a bar with friends, talk to people who seem interesting.

Her criteria involved thinking about a handful of questions: "Do you look approachable? Am I going to have a good experience talking to you? Are you going to make me laugh?"

"It's not about how you look - it's about your attitude," said Bushnell, whose New York Observer column in the '90s inspired the "Sex and the City" book and TV series.

But in 2012, when Bushnell found herself single again in her 50s, the same strategy yielded disappointing results - and not because of her age. The fact that people don't even look at each other walking down the street or sitting in bars "was the most shocking difference."

"When everyone's on their phone, the personality aspect of it goes away and it's like nobody is interested. There's something better on their phone," she said. Going to a bar with a friend in the age of dating apps, Bushnell found, "was strangely quiet."

Bushnell is now in a relationship with Tim Coleman, a real-estate adviser and consultant whom she met through "Sex in the City" actor Chris Noth. She's collected enough modern dating anecdotes that she's out with a new novel, "Is There Still Sex in the City?" based on her experiences.

The answer to the book title's question is yes, but less, she said. "If there isn't [sex] this year, maybe there will be, you know, in the next five years." Fittingly, Bushnell was celibate for the five years she lived in Connecticut after her divorce.

Bushnell told Insider more about what makes dating, and sex, today different.

Technology may be connecting people, but it's not necessarily leading to more sex

Statistics suggest Bushnell was in better company during her relationship-free and sex-free years than she would have been if she'd been celibate decades earlier.

Celibacy rates have increased steadily over the past three decades, and in 2018 the share of Americans who reported not having sex for the entire previous year was the highest on record.

Bushnell suggested the so-called sex recession has been influenced by technology and people's short attention spans.

A few decades ago, people didn't have that many leisure-time options, she told Insider. "You could watch TV, you could get in your car and drive to a movie. You could go to dinner, maybe you could go to the theater. When you put people together, they have sex." Today, however, people's options for entertainment are limitless - keeping people emotionally apart and sex off the table.

People's shorter attention spans also make sex a rare commodity these days, Bushnell said.

"Some people's attention is so short it's too short for them to have sex," she said, adding that "proper" sex should take at least 20 minutes. "I think a lot of people feel like, 'You know what? I don't have time for sex. I mean, especially if it's not that great."

Today's dating climate reflects positive social developments, too

The differences in dating and sex patterns over the last couple decades are also the result of changing societal norms, as Bushnell observed.

"We're becoming more and more of a society where a relationship is an option," she said. "In the past, if you were a woman, you kind of had to have a relationship [in order to] have access to money."

Having children is also increasingly seen as an option, not an obligation. And while some scientists fear that declining birth rates in the US and other countries could be problematic if there eventually aren't enough young people to support both the economy and people in older generations, Bushnell said Mother Nature has a way of sorting things out.

"The reality might be if people live longer, not everybody needs to reproduce," said Bushnell, who doesn't have children. "It doesn't worry me that much."

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