When it comes to the millennial reputation, a few things come to mind (largely for previous generations): entitlement, lack of stick-to-it-ness and stability, technology obsession, easy money, easy porn, dating by swipe, commitment-phobia, and an unprecedented freedom to explore sexually.
I'll spare you the schtick about how wholesale judgments on the "positive" or "negative" attributes of any one generation are bullshit, because the inescapable truth is that one generation leads to another. But I will point out that when it comes to sex, the truth is unexpected: millennials are the least sexually active generation in decades.
Note: I wash my hands of y'all, as technically, I count myself among the Xennial micro-generation. Just kidding (sorta).
Stable sex stats
In all seriousness, though, multiple studies have shown that not only are millennials less likely to have had sex at all, but among those who are doing the dirty, they're doing it less often and with fewer people. To be specific, American adults, on average, are having sex about nine times fewer per year in the 2010s as compared to the late 1990s. That's a 14 per cent decline.
According to the General Social Survey (GSS), similar trends are apparent among younger people. In the early 2000s, about 73 per cent of adults 18 to 30 had sex at least twice a month. That fell to 66 per cent from 2014 to 2016. Others weren't doing it at all. From 2002 to 2004, 12 per cent reported having no sex the preceding year.
A decade later, from 2014 to 2016, that number rose to 18 per cent. And last year, the CDC released new research finding a dramatic decline in reported sexual activity among teenagers: 42 per cent of women and 44 per cent of men aged 15 to 19 reported having sex, compared to 51 per cent of women and 60 per cent of men in 1988.
So, while millennials may be having the most free-spirited and least judgy sex ever, they're having significantly less of it. Initial reactions to this (mine included), are negative, 'cause, hey, sex is life's purest pleasure, right? But it's really worth looking at the why before fully forming an opinion.
Here's why millennials are having less sex (hint: it's not porn).
1. Learned caution and consent culture
Gen-X cautionary tales around sexual risk-taking sure left their imprint, really driving home all the ways that unplanned pregnancies and STIs can threaten people's futures. Second, growing concerns about the ways in which unwanted or nonconsensual sex is dangerous, ethically unacceptable and an obstacle to progress for women, in particular, may be having an impact.
Heightened attention to sexual assault on campuses has likely left its mark on sexual habits among students too. But hey — less risky/nonconsensual sex is NOT a negative. No two ways about it. Hand clap on this one.
2. Sex and marriage go together like a horse and carriage
Changing marriage patterns are also having an effect. Studies have consistently found that married people tend to have more sex. And given that millennials are waiting a lot longer to get married (the average age of first marriage is close to 30 now), that could partly explain why they're less sexually active.
But it's not just marriage. The dating scene has changed in the last decade or so (understatement of the century), and steady relationships are at times elusive as well. Bottom line, those less likely to have a steady partner are less likely to have sex as often as those who are coupled off. Makes sense to me, if we're talking strictly about frequency and not quality (will leave that can of worms alone for now).
3. The war on depression isn't sexy
Additionally, millennials are more medicated than past generations, especially when it comes to anti-depressants. Did you know that young adults today are using these drugs at earlier and for far longer periods of time than ever before? It's pretty well-known at this point that anti-depressants (particularly Prozac and other SSRIs) have sexual side effects. Namely, they tend to reduce sexual desire and inhibit sexual arousal.
4. Technology, the black hole
The fact that more and more of our lives are taking place online means we spend more time interacting virtually instead than in person, which in turn creates fewer opportunities for sex. The more obsessed we become with our phones, the less likely it is that sex is gonna happen spontaneously.
Also, since reduced human contact makes us feel more isolated and even depressed, this only makes matters worse by decreasing libido. In fact, some argue that this is why the post-millennial generation, aka iGen, is even less sexually active than millennials!
Although it cannot be denied that technology is creating new opportunities for sexual expression (i.e. sexting and cybersex), it is also playing a role in the decline of face-to-face sexual activity.
5. The parent trap
And in case you didn't consider the actual economic conditions millennials must contend with, here's a reminder: the erratic nature of the current economy has made young adults more likely to bunk with a parent (or two) than live on their own or get married. In 2007, before the Great Recession, just 30 per cent of men 18 to 34 lived with a parent. In 2017, 34 per cent did. The number of women 18 to 34 living with parents rose from 24 to 27 per cent in the same period. The shift away from independent living or marriage, and toward the family basement, doesn't exactly work wonders for one's sex life.
Get this: for the first time in over a century (!), young adults are more likely to live at home with parents than be married or live with a partner.
While learned caution and stronger consent culture are definite positives in the mosaic that is reasoned sexual frequency — and ones I imagine increase the quality of sex people are having — other factors relating to depression, technological isolation and economic uncertainty are kinda shitty.
But, if there's one thing I've learned in my time on this planet thus far, it's that change is constant. It's hard to say what's around the bend. Till the future hits you on the nose, I say have safe, respectful sex whenever you want to and/or whenever you can. Whatever you do, don't forget that sex has many health benefits, and is more fun than taking your vitamins.
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