Relationship Type: N/A

Why None Of My Friends Are Having Sex This Summer

“The irony of course is that I have never had more sex than I am having now — it’s just with myself.”

Sex & The Single Mom

At a recent dinner party surrounded by mostly single, successful, confident (and previously married) women ages 35 to 55, it struck me that not one of them — myself included — was actively dating or in a relationship with a man. It was the first time that had been the case, all of us collectively experiencing the same dating-app fatigue and general disappointment when pursuing new relationships, be they casual, serious, or something in between. We collectively marveled over the turn in conversation since we’d last seen each other. The lack, if you will, of romantic woe.

For years, we had met and swapped horror stories of swiping, dating, and having sex with men. And while there were, of course, outlier experiences — great sex, great men, good times — the majority of our stories leaned toward almost identical unfavorable experiences: a multiple choice with nothing but fails.

There were:

A. Men who became obsessive after one date

B. Those who ghosted after two.

C. The guys who claimed to be great lovers...

D. Great fathers...

E. Great men…

… only to prove the contrary within the week, the night, the hour.

And while there was always an occasional “great first date” story to share with the table, it would soon be replaced by an all caps:

F. Never mind.

What was going on? Was it us? Had our mutual support system lifted the previously low bar of our standard off the floor? Had we come to a collective realization that our time was worth more than our need to spend it with someone, specifically the kind of someone who fails to ask the woman he’s on a date with a single question about herself? (This is the most common horror story I hear from women, by the way. And it is also the most common experience I have had dating men. I once went out with someone who after three hours of conversation still had no idea that I had children, a job, or a name. I, on the other hand, knew the name of his high school band, the birthday of his war-hero grandfather, and every movie he had worked on since he started as a production assistant in the early ’90s.)

I date for connection and great sex — things that are slightly easier to find than, say, a soulmate.

“What’s the point of dating men?” I heard one friend say. “Do you know anyone who is happily dating?”

The answer, of course, was no. “Why would I want to waste my time with a man who doesn’t have my capacity when I could be spending time with women — my girlfriends — all of whom do?” said another.

I have always erred on the side of optimism when it comes to dating, but perhaps that is because at the moment, I do not date for love. I date for connection and great sex — things that are slightly easier to find than, say, a soulmate. And while I have not chosen to be as celibate as the majority of my single friends, I have not actively dated in months, and every time I hop back on an app to suss the situation, I am quickly reminded why.

It also makes so much sense that this past decade’s mass marital exit of women from toxic marriages would run parallel to a mass exodus of women from dating toxic men.

After all, where do you think all the disappointing ex-husbands ended up?

1. Tinder

2. Bumble

3. Hinge

4. All of the above

This isn’t just in my circle either. Almost every woman I know in the virtual space who has been dating online is taking an indefinite hiatus from apps to focus the time once spent endlessly swiping on themself. In fact, one of the reasons I haven’t published a “dating” column since January is because no one seems to be dating.

It’s as if we all collectively woke up and realized that dating apps are meant to keep us on them, not to find happiness or satisfaction (neither of which are conducive to more scrolling). I swear to God the algorithm only knows how to reintroduce me to men I’ve been with before, a sort of cyber slut-shame that I used to pass off as coincidence.

Never mind the backlash that occurred when the notoriously uncool (and faux-feminist) Bumble tried to call women out for dropping out of its dating pool by throwing taglines on billboards that said things like “thou shalt not give up on dating and become a nun.” It was quickly called out for insinuating that even in the year 2024, a woman’s sexuality depends on its proximity to men.

If this all sounds a little grim, let me assure you that nobody at my dinner was particularly sad. “The irony, of course, is that I have never had more sex than I am having now — it’s just with myself,” one of my friends recently told me. She was talking, of course, about the rise of the solo sex life. In fact, many would argue that not dating men is an ideal way to prioritize one’s pleasure and that a satisfying sex life does not depend on anyone but herself. (See here for my roundup of best sex toys for solo sex!)

Which brings me to the more important part of this conversation: Just because more and more women are opting out of having sex and dating men doesn’t mean they are opting out of queer sex, solo sex, or prioritizing their pleasure.

I recently started re-watching Sex and the City with my teenage daughter, forgetting all about “the rabbit episode” (“The Turtle and the Hare,” Season 1, Episode 9 — for anyone who cares to Google), which, at the time, was all any woman my age was talking about. And while I remembered “the rabbit” becoming an overnight cultural phenomenon, I had forgotten how the episode positioned sex toys and masturbation in general. While sex toys like the rabbit were pitched as a great “temporary replacement” for sex with men, when they threatened to become a distraction from dating, the only solution was their swift removal from the premises — aka Charlotte York’s bedroom. There is an actual scene in which Miranda and Carrie organize an intervention, prying Charlotte’s purple vibrator from her hands as if her pleasure prioritization is somehow dangerous. (Eventually, Charlotte acquiesces and agrees to get dressed to hunt eligible single men with her friends at the club, handing over her vibrator in shame as Carrie’s voiceover sanctimoniously proclaims: “Charlotte decided that she wasn’t going to settle for herself.”)

What was going on? Was it us? Had our mutual support system lifted the previously low bar of our standard off the floor?

At the time, I watched that scene without flinching, feeling, if anything, empowered that I had bought my first vibrator just that year, but it is insane to me that even 25 years ago, a woman who “settled for herself” was something to be ashamed of. The idea that women should settle for men who don’t deserve them — as opposed to having happy, healthy (sexual!) lives without them — would never fly today. At least not without deserved backlash.

But that doesn’t mean celibacy, masturbation, and solo sex won’t still be weaponized by those who profit from women’s dating-app misery. All of this to say, dating apps aren’t going anywhere, and more power to those who use and enjoy them — who connect with lovely people and have positive experiences, great sex, fall in love.

But if and when one’s happiness, safety, and sanity are being compromised by using them, settling for oneself (sorry, Carrie!) will always be the ultimate power move. Not to mention the one with the most pleasure potential.

I want to answer any and all questions you have about the exhilarating, terrifying, and wonderful experience of dating and having sex with new people after becoming a parent. Send me your questions at rebeccawoolf@gmail.com.

Rebecca Woolf writes Romper’s Sex & the Single Mom series. She has worked as a writer for more than two decades and is the author of two books, Rockabye: From Wild to Child and All of This: A Memoir of Death and Desire. You can subscribe to her newsletter, The Braid, for more. She lives in Los Angeles with her four children.