Illustration: Justin Metz / Concept: Delcan & Co.

This is a special edition of The Masthead. The reporting in this issue draws on our conversation with Kate Julian, an Atlantic editor and the author of “The Sex Recession.” Her reporting raised more questions than she could answer even in a lengthy cover story; here, we try to answer some of them.

In this email, you’ll find a multipart guide to the sex recession. What is it, you ask? Despite big changes in the culture, writes Kate, “American teenagers and young adults are having less sex.” The big mystery is why. All the articles mentioned here are collected in a special page on

Also, with this issue, we’re saying a fond farewell to Caroline Kitchener, one of the founding members of the Masthead team. She’s off to new adventures, and we wish her well.

— Matt Peterson, editor, The Masthead

The Story That Got Us Going

“This problem has no single source,” Kate Julian writes. “Maybe the human sex drive is more fragile than we thought, and more easily stalled.” Her story dived into the many factors that might be causing sex drives to drag. For a quick reveal of Kate’s research, read the top five reasons young people are having less sex.

Masthead Originals

Why People Watch Sex They’d Never Have. Hentai—a category that includes anime, manga, and other kinds of animated porn—was the new runner-up in Pornhub’s list of 2017’s most popular searches, meaning that a lot of people are watching sexual acts that would be physically impossible for them. Caroline Kitchener finds that humans have an intrinsic desire for “newness” and “novelty.” Porn these days is “built for maximum craveability.”

How Teens Turned Instagram Into a Dating App. Young adults use dating apps as a game-like diversion, as a time killer during boredom, and, of course, as a way to find casual sex and first dates. And that’s true even though Tinder and other popular dating apps are restricted to users 18 years and older. Karen Yuan reports that teens have MacGyvered social platforms like Instagram into dating apps of their own, building complicated rules of romance: how to message a crush, how to flirt with emojis, and how to maintain a relationship when your friends are watching.

Behind the Scenes With Kate Julian. Before Kate Julian was on the Today show and NPR’s Morning Edition, she spoke with the Masthead team. Listen to and read our interview about the questions her reporting raised.

What Can Be Fixed?

The Case for Comprehensive Sex Ed. Sex education has become a disgrace, Kate writes. We asked Bonnie Rough, a writer who has studied international sex-ed practices, to make a case for fixing it. Only about half of American teenagers who have had sex say that they have received any sex ed at all, she writes, and for many of those who do receive sex-ed, the only option is abstinence education. Her argument: Just imagine what rigorous sex ed could do.

Let’s Talk About Sex

This issue left questions The Masthead couldn’t answer. For those, we turn to you.

  • Can American sex ed be fixed? Is Bonnie Rough’s argument convincing?
  • What does the recent fascination with hentai and other forms of fantasy porn say about our cultural moment? How will this type of porn affect the lives of the people who watch it?
  • What is the best approach to reforming American sex education? What lessons from other countries’ sex-ed practices can the U.S. learn?
  • Are you a young adult who uses dating apps, or do you know teenagers who date through social media? How do you think other emerging technology will affect the way young people date?

Write to us with your experience and expertise, on these or any other questions you have, at We look forward to hearing from you.

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