January has never been the most alluring month, but are onesies, slippers and Borgen marathons inevitable parts of seasonal hibernation or signs of a shift in attitudes toward sex?
When today’s commute and the upcoming work day are done, what are you most looking forward to? Let us guess: putting on those fleecy slipperboots you got for Christmas, eating something made from pasta and cheese, and watching Netflix in your baggiest pyjama bottoms. Because this is January: comfort is king.
Despite maintaining impeccable appearances at work, what we wear behind closed doors is another matter entirely. And what our partners might think of our afterwork apparel doesn’t even come into it because, seriously, who wants to flounce around in sheer nighties and lace-trimmed hold-ups when it’s -2°C outside? And if we’re single, the thought of enduring a walk to and from a bar for a date, which could be nothing more than two hours of wasted time, is just not worth the effort. Nights of endless passion are as far from our minds as Havaianas and leg waxes. It’s cold, we need carbs and the time between reluctantly removing that onesie – which research shows one in eight of us now own – to the point we’re toasty under the covers must be kept to an absolute minimum.
It could be argued that January – with the bed socks, chapped skin and constant attachment to a hot water bottle – is the unsexiest month of the year. But is our growing predilection to spend evenings eating nachos and wearing onesies just about keeping warm, or a sign of something much bigger than a post-new year slump?
A lot of responsibility for the rise of the onesie lands at the feet of celebrities (Cara Delevingne’s love of hers is well documented). And when supermodels are wearing clothes that have essentially been upsized from a toddlers’ (Peter Pan collars, dungarees, ankle socks), infantilised style suddenly becomes the norm. But the clothes also infantilise the wearer, however you look at it. Dressing as a giant baby – even in the comfort of your own home – is not a look that screams ‘assured and sexually assertive’ to the vast majority.
And while it could be argued that such outfits reflect our – and the nation’s – mood; that giant babygros make us feel more secure in a world that is increasingly difficult to navigate; and that it’s fittingly good-humoured apparel for Generation Y, which is struggling to reach adult status on more practical terms due to housing bubbles and lack of jobs, it’s certainly not a gilded path to seduction.
Making the effort
That attitude of grooming ourselves to perfection for the office but donning threadbare tracksuit bottoms at home sparks warning bells for dating expert James Preece. “We are a generation that finds it far more acceptable to make less effort,” he says. “And I believe that can be detrimental to our sex lives.”
It may sound simplistic but with a recent once-a-decade poll from the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles of 15,000 Brits showing that 16-34 year olds are having less sex than ever – fewer than five times per month compared with more than six times per month in the previous two decades – the decline has to find its origins somewhere.
Of course, our propensity to revert to grubby university hoodies at home (or even while doing the supermarket shop) is far from the whole story. The study cites aspects of ‘modern life’ such as our growing dependence on the internet to communicate with friends (and catch up with Breaking Bad) as well as the economic downturn and its consequential 1am financial panics as likely causes of the dip in sexual activity. For those whose jobs are secure, attempts to find a balance to long hours in the office often means evenings packed with Zumba, Spanish lessons and an unrelenting social schedule, leaving no time for partners or forging romantic relationships. So by the time you do fall into bed, all you lust after is six precious hours of uninterrupted sleep.
“There are too many distractions, there’s always something else to do,” says Dr Cath Mercer, senior lecturer in the Centre for Sexual Health at University College London. “There’s always something on the television, there’s always the internet. For couples, that’s a particular issue as you can always take a tablet into the bedroom. Our parents would have finished work earlier, the commute would have taken less time, then they would have had dinner and maybe read a book. That’s as complicated as it got. Even 10 years ago, if we wanted to check our email we’d have to go to the trouble of booting up the home computer. Now, our email is just there on our phones. Throw in the fact that sex in long-term relationships often happens when you go to bed, if you’re attached to a gadget… sex is just much less likely to happen.”
Perhaps even more depressing than being too busy, too wired or too cold for sex, is the idea that in some communities it is deemed fundamentally repellent. While a 2008 Durex survey found that 84% of Greeks had sex once a week (and 79% of Brazilians), only 36% of Japanese people managed to have sex weekly. It’s a situation that doesn’t look to be improving. When a 2013 survey by the Japan Family Planning Association found that 45% of Japanese women aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact” and more than a quarter of men felt the same, the Japanese media coined the term ‘celibacy syndrome’. Young Japanese people were shunning physical relationships for tech alternatives: online porn, virtual reality partners and anime cartoons.
Our new immersion in everything virtual seems to have had a disastrous effect on how we view one of the most natural human acts. “The latest research shows that both older and younger people are lacking interest in sex, or don’t take any joy out of it, or are anxious when they’re doing it,” explains Mercer. “One in four 16-24 year olds lacked interest in having sex for over three months in the past year. One in 10 of the same age group lacked enjoyment in sex. And I think this could be because they compare their sex lives to what they see in porn or in films. They think, ‘The sex I have is crap because I don’t orgasm immediately, and it doesn’t last all night, and I don’t look like that, so what’s the point?’ We need to have a rethink of what real sex is.”
The Sex Myth
Fantasy – however preposterous – has enjoyed a higher profile of late. It’s an irony impossible to ignore that for the past two years women have seemingly had their noses buried in Fifty Shades Of Grey, largely ignoring the boyfriend beside them or the opportunity to meet new partners. Relationship psychologist Susan Quilliam believes this, too, lies in our awkward relationship with the reality of sex.
“Anastasia climaxes just from having her breasts touched, Christian always gets an erection and even after they have a baby, they still have constant sex,” laughs Quilliam. “It seems obvious to me that the appeal of the book has more to do with it being an antidote to reality. And the reality is that sex and relationships are difficult.”
And when what happens in our bedrooms on an average Tuesday is so removed from anything society categorises as “sexy” it’s no wonder that we consider slinking off in our lilac fleece onesies.
Quilliam agrees it could also be a retaliation to porn culture, which is often horrifying, idealised or abusive, and that is not what sex is about: “Sex is about skin-on-skin contact and the problem with focusing on aesthetics like lingerie is that it makes sex driven by what you see. At some point, sex always shifts to being about what you feel and think.”
Preece agrees that the move toward soft, subtle is no bad thing: “A smile, a glance, an attitude…” he explains. “We miss these little things or have less appreciation for them because we increasingly see pornography, ‘sexting’ and dressing up as the norm, rather than part of a bigger picture.”
Recent research by Durex found that two thirds of people feel starved of affection and want more kisses or hugs, so if we’re looking for starting points for our buried sex drives, perhaps we can find them there.
“In relationships, it’s about re-establishing physical connection: holding hands, kissing and sleeping naked to remind your body how you used to feel,” says Quilliam. “For single women it’s about reclaiming body awareness and confidence. I don’t believe for one minute that humans have gone off sex – look how often people do it with a new partner if you need evidence of that.”
The fact is, whether it’s January or July, we need to stop being sold on, or indeed, intimidated by a notion of sexuality that’s based on fiction. We need to realise that we can be sexy in our own skin, confident in our own allure and that while gravy-stained hoodies aren’t a classic precursor to seduction, with the right person they can certainly have their moments.
Susan Quilliam’s workshops on Making The Most Of Your Sex Life at The School Of Life are on 22 February (women only) and 8 March (men only); theschooloflife.com