Less Sex for Millennials? (Tell Me About It!)

Millennials are apparently having less sex than their counterparts did from previous generations. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

As written about in a piece by Susan Scutti for CNN, citing research by the academic journal Archives of Sexual Behavior (ahem, totally academic, yes), the twenty-somethings of today are having less sex than their Gen-X counterparts.

Tell me about it, sister. Of respondents in the most recent iteration of the study, 15% said they had no sexual partners before the age of 18, while only 6% of respondents from the previous generation claimed the same. As someone who currently lives at home and drives—because it was the only family car left over—a 1999 Toyota Sienna that plays cassette tapes, the last model of its kind, um, I know what’s it like to not get laid. For people my age and younger taking this survey, though, who actually make good money, don’t live at home and don’t drive a 17-year-old car which repels women, what gives? I mean, are there those of you who are actively refusing sex? The f**k?!? Shit, I’ll take some of what you don’t want!

My sordid sexual history aside, the researchers and other experts cited within Scutti’s article hypothesize as to the reasons why young folks today are less likely to want to zoom-a-zoom-zoom in each others’ boom-booms. Some of the possible justifications discussed within:

1. Too busy for sex

This sounds, frankly, kind of stupid, at first blush, but there might be something to this. If you’re working two or more jobs trying to meet current expenses on top of whatever existing obligations you may possess (like, uh, credit card debt and student loans, maybe?), there might be simply not enough time in the day for a little hey-hey on the side. Either that, or the spirit may be willing but the flesh may be weak; that is, you may seek to screw but stumble upon sleep instead. There are those older adults out there who tend to believe millennials have it easy, but speaking on behalf of my generation, while things could be worse, they still could be better for a lot of us. Economists may talk of an end to the Great Recession, but with unemployment in the United States still higher than it could or perhaps should be, and a potential major Social Security shortfall looming in the decades to come, it’s not exactly a romp through the rose garden for younger Americans.

2. Technology getting in the way?

Jean Twenge, lead researcher and author of a book on the millennial generation, is quoted within Susan Scutti’s piece about the role technology may play in interfering with their sexual activity—or lack thereof. From the article:

“There’s the possibility that technology has something to do with this,” Twenge said. If you’re spending more time texting with your friends and less time in person, she explained, you might have fewer opportunities to “hook up.” Or, more simply, since “there are more ways to entertain yourself,” sex is less important, being just one of many possibilities on a growing list.

This explanation, to me, seems a little more suspect. Later on in Scutti’s piece, she cites another expert in sociology professor Martin Monto who suggests that, despite millennials’ reputation for hooking up, they might not be as Netflix-and-chill as some of us might believe. This notwithstanding, I would think with mobile technology and social media what it is, access is not a problem. I mean, have Twenge and other researchers never heard of Tinder? On a personal note, I text. I play Angry Birds. But—and maybe I’m the outlier here—that wouldn’t interfere with me “hooking up.” As much as I get a kick out of Pokémon Go, I’m forsaking Pikachu for pussy every time—no questions asked.

3. Less pressure

As perhaps indicative of a trend toward reaching milestones later in life, including deciding on a career, getting married and moving out, there is less an of an emphasis on having sex just to have it, and much less on “being fruitful and multiplying,” as the Holy Bible would recommend. As Jean Twenge would insist, despite millennials being within or slightly past their sexual prime, they may not be “emotionally ready” for a durable romantic relationship—as much as they might themselves want it. But the signs point to the notion this is OK. Even when their moms ask if they’ve ever considered using Match.com. You know, hypothetically. Not speaking from personal experience or anything like that.

4. Safe sex is the best sex?

While there is perhaps not the same level of concern among millennials regarding sexual health and diseases after the worries about HIV/AIDS that predominated for Gen-Xers, Twenge reports that millennials place an importance on safe sex on multiple levels, more so than any other generation. Not only are they concerned with physical safety in sexual situations, but they also highly value “emotional safety.” Jean Twenge highlights, as an example, the use of “trigger warnings” to preemptively alert other online users to the presence of potentially disturbing content. Of course, critics who are either not from this generation or who are not as emotionally “sensitive” as others might label this concern for emotional security as some namby-pamby, touchy-feely crap.

My two cents? 1) These people are probably assholes, and quite possibly Donald Trump supporters, so take their opinions for what they’re worth. 2) Colleges and universities, as well as certain organizations on campuses, may seek to minimize the threats that both women and men face as on-site students, but especially in instances of rape and sexual assault, threats of bodily and psychological harm are very real, and frequently, administrators and police forces alike fail to adequately support those who have been victims of such abuse, either out of concern for the reputation of the accused, the institution, or both. So, scoff if you want, naysayers and frat boys, but this is serious business. I pray for your sake you and your future daughter/son don’t have to experience sexual violence first-hand to appreciate that notion.

In sum, responding to the findings that millennials that are having less sex than previous generations, 1) the idea that people are too busy for romance is not without merit, although one would hope that if people find the right partners, they would make it work, or at least give it the old college try; 2) technology may be a hindrance to authentic connection, though it may be a way to facilitate contact, so this charge may be overblown; 3) younger adults are waiting to have serious relationships and families, which I feel is a good thing if it helps couples avoid messy divorces, and 4) wrap it up, kids, and authority figures, safety in sexual situations is important! So treat it that way!

Generally speaking, I don’t believe certain elements of waiting to have sex and long-term relationships with significant others are necessarily bad things, though those factors that take decision-making out of the hands of couples, namely work-related fatigue, are regrettable. Where there may be room for concern, however, is when people more actively seek durable relationships but fail to make progress in this regard. To be fair, relationships are never easy, despite what online dating sites might suggest in their commercials. Nonetheless, millennials may struggle overall with intimacy—something which may have little to nothing to do with having sex for some. Merav Gur, a NYC-based clinical psychologist, wrote in 2014 about the challenge intimacy presents for many of today’s adult relationship-seekers. Though Gur frames her writing mostly in terms of female hardship with finding happiness as part of a committed relationship, it can be argued that there is application to be had for romance-seekers irrespective of gender. Certainly, a number of possible reasons why Dr. Gur sees patients falter appear to be quite general: histories of being bullied or harassed by peers, inherited patterns of unhealthy relationship behavior from parents, intrusive or judgmental parents, poor relationship advice from friends are who struggling with intimacy in their own right, some form of abuse.

As for Merav Gur’s suggestions for how to address issue of this sort, again, while she dispenses advice in terms of a female audience, there are lessons to be learned for women and men alike: be aware of what kind of partnership you want and what behaviors are and are not acceptable, don’t run from confronting emotional conflicts, don’t ignore your own needs for fear of being “too needy,” don’t try to change your partner into the type of person you want him or her to be, don’t be in a relationship just to avoid being alone, recognize the type of individual you may be attracting across failed relationships, realize the limitations of being a “drama addict.” A number of these points seem to be fairly standard responses to improving one’s overall approach to relationships and interacting with people in daily life. All the same, Dr. Gur’s recommendations are of the self-help variety that benefit those who practice them repeatedly and refocus as needed. Often, the easiest problems to face and fix are those that we suppress or ignore. To be reminded of the goals we have set, even in the form of a daily visual reminder, can make a material difference in accepting and accomplishing them.

Going back to the influences technology may have in impacting people’s sex lives and romantic relationships, Gur does reference how electronic means of communication may interfere with the development of healthier communication and interpersonal conflict resolution skills—the kind of skills best honed with live, face-to-face interaction. If millennials’ time is as at a premium like Susan Scutti and others suggest, this recognizably can be difficult. Otherwise, plotting trends of how much or how little sex twenty-somethings are having should be noted without making judgments using broad ideological strokes, especially as colored by intergenerational differences.

The duo of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince once famously quipped that “parents just don’t understand,” and while the tune is a whimsical one, to a certain extent, they might be right on this topic. As much as millennials may not like to contemplate this idea, their mother and father did, in fact, have sex to bring them into the world. However, this does not mean Mom and Dad know everything there is to know about sex, nor does it necessarily qualify them to ascribe an assessment of their son or daughter’s sexual habits based on their own generational values. Certainly, not having a kid, I may not have a leg on which to stand with my opinion, and furthermore, I may be unable to fully appreciate what it’s like to raise a child, but one of my frustrations with what is evidently the prevailing parental attitude in the United States toward sex is that it is one of doom and gloom. Don’t get pregnant. Don’t get an STD. In fact, don’t have sex before you’re married—even though it’s totally enjoyable and we got married young and probably fooled around before we tied the knot.

While it is a bit of a generalization that Americans are puritanical in their beliefs about sex and Europeans are comparatively wildly permissive of their offspring knocking boots before the age of 18, families across the pond do tend to be better able to have an honest, accepting conversation about sex. Amy Schalet, an associate professor of sociology at UMass-Amherst, for one, in measuring the differences in survey measures between American and Dutch families on the topic of sex, believes those in the States could benefit by having a more candid dialog about acceptance and what can or cannot go on underneath the family roof. In doing so, they would do well to consider that their child’s expression of his or her sexuality isn’t automatically just f**king, but can be accompanied by real feelings, even at a young age. Of course, if your sweetie is becoming the village bicycle, then a different type of conversation might need to transpire, but barring that occurring, it is entirely possible for parents and children to tackle the issue head on in a positive way.

In closing, as a millennial, I would like to speak on behalf of older adults reacting to reports of younger adults having less sex in perhaps the most millennial way I can: chillax. It is what it is. We still want to do, you know, it. We still want to have our own kids—even if we secretly want to strangle other people’s children. We just want to do it on our terms. Call us entitled. Tell us again about how you want to see your grandchildren before you die. But don’t act like you know everything there is know on these matters. I mean, who do you think you are, Google?

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