Love on a budget: the cost of living crisis and our sex lives

Anna Lyons unravels the cost of livings toll on intimate and social lives

With the imminent dread of post-grad life, the big question of “what am I going to do after university?” lingers in my mind constantly. I was recently talking to my mum who gave me some life advice on the topic: “Get on the housing market young, Anna. All of my friends who did that have lovely houses now.” I was annoyed to say the least. There’s no way of blaming her, because luckily for her, that was her reality – however, it couldn’t be further from mine. 

The cost of living in Dublin is, on average, between €1,100 – €1,800 per month, with many students paying more. So what does this mean for our sex and social lives? First of all, to nobody’s surprise, more students are living at home now than in the past. 10 years ago, the average age at which people left their family home was 19. Now it is 28, and I think we all know that this isn’t out of choice. Sex is simply logistically more difficult as a result. Perhaps you share a tiny room with a roommate, your parents are next door, or maybe it takes you two hours to get home. In the state of this economy, taking someone home is no easy feat. As Teachta Dála Mick Barry put it, speaking to the Dáil in April, this is “cramping the style” of young people. 

A conversation I had with another student last week springs to mind. She was commuting to Trinity every day from Laois. I have other friends who have no choice but to wait on the streets of Dublin after a night out for the bus to start running again so that they can get back home to Wicklow. There are groups of eight or more people sharing houses that are made to fit four. Students are living at home with poor standards, and are often commuting for unsustainably long periods of time. Furthermore, students are forced to work additional hours in part-time jobs just to keep them afloat throughout college. 

“Is it really any surprise that our social and sex lives are taking the back burner?”

So with our heads barely poking above the water, it comes as no surprise that this is having a major impact on our sex lives; we have less time, less money and more stress. Mental health is the first to fall victim to the crisis. Going out for two pints on a Friday night requires dipping into my life savings, and if I decide to go clubbing, it seems as though I need to sell a kidney to do so. Students are stressed about where to live and how to pay for it, and they have full-time degrees to deal with on top of that. So is it really any surprise that our social and sex lives are taking the back burner?

Mental health and the housing crisis seem to be one and the same, as the two big issues students in Ireland are facing. According to the Young Social Innovators (YSI), 68% of Gen Z suffer with anxiety or depression, with anxiety about the future being cited as an issue for 59% of the generation. 

In chatting to a friend recently about this issue, she said one line that summed it all up for me: “I don’t have the time for a shag.” It’s true. She’s a good student and takes pride in that, on top of which she maintains a part-time 20-hour work week and scrambles for additional time in which to socialise. Life as a student nowadays is stressful, and it is time consuming. 

When our mental well-being is worse, social stamina and libido go out the window”

In the Mental Health Foundation’s 2023 report on “Mental Health and the Cost-of-Living Crisis” it is clearly outlined, unsurprisingly, that people suffering from increased financial stress are at an increased risk of mental health problems and lower mental well-being. When our mental well-being is worse, social stamina and libido go out the window. Sex educator Alix Fox, reporting for Cosmopolitan, claimed simply that “if you are in a housing situation which is stressfully unstable, if you’re having to work around the clock until you’re knackered, or if your health is impacted by poverty, you may well have less time and inclination for sex.” 

To briefly sum up, with the cost of living crisis students simply cannot afford to prioritise their social and sex lives: they don’t have the time and they don’t have the money. On top of part-time jobs, stressful studies, long commutes and poor mental health, maintaining a good sex life can seem like one too many balls (or lack thereof…) to try to juggle. Affordable housing and comfortable living is the bare minimum for an accessible sex life – yet this objective is not one that is attainable for the majority of college students in Dublin. 

Anna Lyons

Anna Lyons is the Sex and Relationships Editor at Trinity News and is currently in her Senior Sophister Year studying Law and Business.