Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Topic of the Day: Why Aren’t Millennials Having Sex?

2300-teenage-sex2

This is a really interesting and thought-provoking article about the generational trend researchers are noticing among millennials (especially younger millennials) who are having much less sex (fewer partners and less sex with the partners they have) than the most recent previous generations. “A study published Tuesday in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior finds that younger millennials — born in the 1990s — are more than twice as likely to be sexually inactive in their early 20s as the previous generation was. Even older millennials are more sexually active than this younger group is.”

Of course, there are plenty of theories why this is: young women feel more empowered than ever to say no to pressured sex/ sex they aren’t ready for or don’t want; “difficulty forming deep romantic connections; pressure to succeed, social lives increasingly conducted on-screen; unrealistic expectations of physical perfection encouraged by dating apps and wariness over date rape.” Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University and chief scientific adviser to the dating site Match.com cites ambition as a reason many young millennials avoid sex and intimacy: “A lot of them are afraid that they’ll get into something they can’t get out of and they won’t be able to get back to their desk and keep studying.”

And then, of course, there are dating apps affecting young people’s romantic and sex lives:

“[Millennials are a] group that really started to communicate by screens more and by talking to their friends in person less,” said researcher Jean Twenge, lead author of the two studies. So has sex declined because people are not meeting in person? Perhaps in part. But online life can also affect offline life in more subtle ways, especially when potential mates can disappear forever with the swipe of a thumb.“It ends up putting a lot of importance on physical appearance, and that, I think, is leaving out a large section of the population,” said Twenge, who teaches psychology at San Diego State University. “For a lot of folks who are of average appearance, marriage and stable relationships was where they were having sex.” Unlike in face-to-face meetings where “you can seduce someone with your charm,” she said, dating apps are “leaving some people with fewer choices and they might be more reluctant to search for partners at all.”

Then there are the people who would rather be playing video games than interacting with people — even people who might want to have sex with them and vice versa:

Noah Patterson, 18, likes to sit in front of several screens simultaneously: a work project, a YouTube clip, a video game. To shut it all down for a date or even a one-night stand seems like a waste. “For an average date, you’re going to spend at least two hours, and in that two hours I won’t be doing something I enjoy,” he said.

It’s not that he doesn’t like women. “I enjoy their companionship, but it’s not a significant part of life,” said Patterson, a Web designer in Bellingham, Wash.

He has never had sex, although he likes porn. “I’d rather be watching YouTube videos and making money.” Sex, he said, is “not going to be something people ask you for on your résumé.”

Another theory about this sexless trend among millennials is that they’re overcautious. As the first generation “to grow up with car seats and bike helmets, the first not allowed to walk to school or go to the playground alone,” they are equally cautious about “catching feelings,” a result often of physical and emotional intimacy, as well as avoiding the grey area that may develop without a clear “yes” before sex (“in efforts to counteract hookup and drinking culture, some campuses have begun instigating “yes means yes” rules stipulating that each step of a sexual encounter requires verbal consent. For some, staying away altogether can feel less treacherous.”).

If all this sounds a little depressing, here’s some perspective that may help:

Fisher, the Rutgers anthropologist, is not worried. “It’s probably a good thing,” she said. Noting that baby boomers were known not only for free love but also for high divorce rates, she added, “I think [taking it slowly] is going to lead to better first marriages.”

In the end, she predicted, biology will prevail. “Sex is a powerful drive, and so is romantic love. . . . The sex system is way below the cortex. It’s way below the limbic system,” on a level with thirst and hunger.

“They’ll get to the sex,” she said. “I’m positive of that.”

Are you a millennial? Have you noticed a trend among your peers to avoid sex and emotional intimacy? Are you a parent or older sibling of a millennial or just someone who works and lives among and interacts with them regularly and has thoughts about this so-called trend and what may be behind it? Or is this simply one more another article/ opinion piece attempting to malign or categorize millennials as emotionally-stunted and intimacy-fearing people suffering from arrested development with little more “proof” to back up that argument than a couple of interviews with a few virgins in their late teens and early 20s, who don’t necessarily speak for a whole generation?

45 comments… add one
  • call-me-hobo

    call-me-hobo August 3, 2016, 12:39 pm

    I will say, sometimes it feels like Millenials can’t win with stuff like this. A year or two ago, we were all depraved sex-hounds using Tinder for anonymous hook-ups, and now were emotionally stunted prudes who are too busy playing Pokemon Go to form meaningful relationships.

    I will say, that personally, the girls I ran around with in high school/early college were on the conservative side of the sex stuff, mostly because we grew up in a culture that if you got pregnant- GAME OVER. Bye-bye college degree, you’re a mom now (I also live in an area where abortion is considered a huge taboo).

    A lot of our moms started college and met our dads. They’d get married, and usually would end up pregnant before actually getting a degree (usually while our fathers finished their bachelors/degrees). I know a lot of us had our mothers hammer into our heads, Do NOT get pregnant. Use multiple forms of BC. Make sure you finish your education before you decide to start a family.

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      Samba August 3, 2016, 2:25 pm

      HA I was really laughing at your first paragraph here. So true!

      This article…I can believe “millenials” are being less physically intimate, there has been a much bigger push towards education and safety concerns over the years, and life is sort of cyclical – there will be period of time it’s “normal” and cool to hook up with anyone and everyone, and then the tide will turn and it will be looked at differently. But the examples given and people interviewed seem to come from an extremely non-representative sample. Back in the 80s, there were teenagers and 20-somethings who were more interested in playing video games or doing things at home than dating too. And there was no online dating or smart phones yet. That really has much less to do with current technology and more to do with your lifestyle / how social or confident you are. I can’t begin to picture college students about to hook up with someone and then thinking “OMG I might start something serious here and not get back to my desk to study!!!” Majority of teenagers through the ages have lived at home, and found a way to get alone time. Yeah, it’s less sexy when you’re 28 and living at home (and you probably feel more awkward about it) – I’m sure that is a factor.

      That said, I also do worry that all this tech and in-your-own-world stuff is and will continue to have a negative impact on society and the way we interact with each other, and I hate hearing when people say “I can’t settle down cuz there’s just TOO MANY OPTIONS at my fingertips!!” Like, I’m sure you’re so great that each of those options is just dyyyinnnggg to lock you down lol. I guess only time will tell.

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    • avatar

      Anonymousse August 3, 2016, 5:24 pm

      I still think you are all a bunch of depraved sex hounds! Now, get off my lawn, you Pokemon Go fiends! I definitely feel like you can’t win either way.

      It’s disturbing to think that the less sex trend could be equivocal to less date rape and more equality.

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  • avatar

    Andrea G August 3, 2016, 1:09 pm

    Maybe it has to do with the economy and job market most younger millenials are faced with. For example, there’s a higher percentage now of 25 year olds still living with their parents than there was 10 years ago. This definitely has an impact on your sex life.

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      SpaceySteph August 3, 2016, 5:23 pm

      When I was internet dating at 23, I found guys still living with their parents a definite turnoff. Not enough to be an immediate no, but also seemed to correlate with inability to be an adult in other ways, too. Guys who didn’t cook, didn’t clean, didn’t do their own laundry.
      I’m proud to say I only had sex in the back of a car once and I did it on purpose because I was curious what it was like* not because I was trying not to get caught by mom and dad.

      *it sucked, by the way. Nothing says “sexy” like a buckle in your back.

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      • avatar

        Anonymousse August 3, 2016, 5:27 pm

        Yes to all of this.
        And I thank my lucky stars I didn’t ever internet date, but the dating thread is enough fuel to understand why people might be having less sex. Sorry, dating thread daters. It’s a rough internet app-love world out there.

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    Northern Star August 3, 2016, 1:18 pm

    I think a good deal of this revolves around technology. I remember reading about this kind of thing happening in Japan already—and their culture is even more reliant on the latest gadgets/gaming/etc.

    I don’t think “less sex” is a huge problem (because there ARE risks, for young women especially), but dwindling in-person relationships and friendships make you more isolated, even if your social media presence is amazing.

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  • avatar

    Kicia August 3, 2016, 1:21 pm

    I seriously can’t stand the phrase “catching feelings”. It makes me want to punch a wall. I can’t explain why but I hate it so much.

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    • avatar

      ktfran August 3, 2016, 1:28 pm

      I concur.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy August 3, 2016, 1:31 pm

      I agree; it makes me cringe.
      And that reminds me: maybe it’s time to start a new forum thread on words and phrases that drive us bonkers. I like to do one about once a year to see what new thing is getting under people’s skin.

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      • Addie Pray

        Addie Pray August 3, 2016, 3:20 pm

        “Goals” – Is this a new one or am I just now noticing it? Either way has to stop!

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        ktfran August 3, 2016, 3:54 pm

        What does that even mean?

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        RedRoverRedRover August 3, 2016, 7:33 pm

        Even worse – “squad goals”.

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      • kmtthat

        kmtthat August 4, 2016, 1:32 pm

        Any variation of the words hubby, wifey, DH.

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      • MaterialsGirl

        MaterialsGirl August 4, 2016, 2:40 pm

        uh whats DH

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      • Addie Pray

        Addie Pray August 4, 2016, 3:55 pm

        darling hubby?

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      • MaterialsGirl

        MaterialsGirl August 4, 2016, 4:21 pm

        barf

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      • Addie Pray

        Addie Pray August 4, 2016, 3:54 pm

        ugh, squad goals is the worst

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    • veritek33

      veritek33 August 3, 2016, 1:49 pm

      cosign!

      And I dont’ think it’s fear of “catching feelings” so much as catching diseases and pregnancy….

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      • avatar

        Anonymousse August 3, 2016, 5:30 pm

        #sorrynotsorry.
        You are not sorry, you never were, and undoubtedly this is followed by some extreme judgement against someone else, like them daring to wear yoga pants in public or something else that’s totally innocuous that doesn’t affect you in anyway.

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      • veritek33

        veritek33 August 4, 2016, 2:44 pm

        um what? is this a response to my comment? I’m confused

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      • avatar

        Anonymousse August 4, 2016, 2:55 pm

        No, sorry. It was a response to terms that drive us nuts.

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      • veritek33

        veritek33 August 4, 2016, 3:30 pm

        haha gotcha. it showed up under my comment so I was confused

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  • avatar

    dinoceros August 3, 2016, 1:41 pm

    I am a millennial. I don’t know that I’ve noticed a trend of us vs. other generations, because I don’t have enough friends in other generations to know about their sex lives. But I have several female friends who go through years-long droughts of dating. It tends to come down to the fact that they can’t find anyone they like who likes them (who is also mature enough to be in a relationship). Like how if you are in your late 20s, you pretty much have to focus on 35+ to find someone who isn’t living in their parents’ basement who just wants to drink all night and play video games. At least for me, I used to date more, but then when I decided I didn’t want to do casual anymore, I haven’t really found anyone. So if I’m not in a relationship and not casually hooking up, then it’s not happening.

    I’m skeptical of the technology thing. I feel like it’s the go-to answer for anyone who wants to analyze current generations. Specifically, if they want to try to show how that generation (aka, always millennials) is stunted or whatever.

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    • avatar

      dinoceros August 3, 2016, 1:42 pm

      Also, I think a lot of people are still “settling down,” as in would prefer to go to dinner or spend time at home than go out to a bar or club or whatever. Like normal growing up. Except that back in the day, if you settled down at 30, you probably were married. Now, you likely are not, so if you want to have a more low-key lifestyle and do “adult” things, you can, but you won’t meet anyone.

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  • avatar

    girltuesday August 3, 2016, 1:54 pm

    Millennial here. I think a lot of the folks on this thread made some good points, including Andrea G. I, personally, don’t know many people who are living at home with mom and dad, but I assume people that are probably aren’t banging much. I know I’d feel awkward about it.

    Distractions with online dating. I’ve heard it from my male friends mostly that they feel like they have too many options when it comes to dating and do not feel comfortable settling down. On the other side of the coin with distractions, I think a lot of us are focused on work and our careers (I know, I know, we’re supposed to be LAZY – remember?!) and we never truly unplug. Hear me out – we entered the workforce when it was very unstable and many of us (not just millennials) are underemployed or unemployed. Stress isn’t sexy.

    Also, the 18 year old kid that was interviewed sounds like an extreme example. He would also be dangerously close (if he isn’t considered already) to being Gen Z, who are different than millennials.

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  • avatar

    snoopy128 August 3, 2016, 2:07 pm

    Without reading the other comments….

    The study is built upon a major flaw….anyone born 1990 or later (their definition of millenial) is a maximum of 26 years old. Therefore, comparing things like total partners is silly because it probably still is lower on average at that point in your life.

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    • Miel

      Miel August 3, 2016, 2:26 pm

      I think that’s why the study talks about projected number of partners for the millenials. I don’t know by what method they get that, but they are predicting that we will have less partners by the time of our death compared to what they are predicting for the other generations who aren’t dead yet.

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      • avatar

        snoopy128 August 3, 2016, 2:53 pm

        Hmm. I’d still be wary of those conclusions. Especially considering it factors in a lot of unpredictable variables (divorce rates, age of marriage, monogamous vs polyamourous sexual relationships, affairs…) for not just one generation, but multiple.

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      dinoceros August 3, 2016, 4:32 pm

      I think the issue is the interpretation of the data by the Washington Post. The abstract reads as though they looked at both generations (X and millennials) who were in their early 20s (20-24) and then compared the groups based on how many partners they had since 18. That in itself showed that young millennials had fewer partners in those years than Generation X did during those years. They probably also did projections, but it seems like the study was more solid than the graph made it out to be. It seems like the study was more about partners in one’s 20s, not necessarily total partners in their whole life, but I might be wrong.

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        Meg Murry August 3, 2016, 9:33 pm

        I can’t tell if the flaw is with the original analysis or the WaPo analysis (I havent read the whole original study), but I don’t agree with the conclusion that the authors come to of less lifetime partners. According to a linked WaPo article: “Researchers calculated projections based on historic sexual patterns across generations. To simplify: Twenge’s group compared the average number of sexual partners among 25-year-old Boomers to, for example, today’s 25-year-olds.” (From an earlier WaPo article about the study, linked within the story – “Why Millennials have sex with fewer partners than their parents did” by Danielle Paquette, May 6, 2015).

        So the data shows that 25 year olds I’m the past 10 years havent had as many partners as 25 year olds did 20, 30, 40 and 50 years ago. But that leaves out the fact that the average marriage age is going up, as well as the average age for first intercourse. So today’s 25 year olds will have had fewer partners at that point – but they will have a few more years of dating before marriage, whereas more than 1/2 of the 25 year olds surveryed 20+ years ago would have already married and therefore probably already had most of their sexual partners.

        I’m willing to bet if instead of # of partners at 25 they instead compared # of partners at median marriage age it would be a lot closer.

        Although the other GIANT thing the WaPo article ignores is HIV/AIDS and sex ed. HIV wasnt discovered to be transmitted between heterosexual partners until the early 80s, and it wasn’t until the late 80s/early 90s that there was an educational push regarding HIV transmission. So the Boomers would have all been 25 (the study age) pre-HIV, whereas the majority of Gen X and all Millennials would have learned of HIV as teens and pre-teens and would have had more sex ed in school.

        I think these factors are far more likely to be the root cause of “fewer partners by 25” than all of the “fear of catching feelings” and “disconnected because of screens/digital communication” BS the more recent WaPo article proposes. Yes, they found some Millennials to quote that said the type of thing, but the plural of anecdote is not data.

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    bondgirl August 3, 2016, 2:25 pm

    The comments from the 18 year old boy regarding porn reminded me of an article I read a while back that talked about how young men are blaming excessive porn viewing for their impotency. To me the explanation made sense. Overexposure to something can lessen your sensitivity to whatever that thing is — that’s why exposure therapy helps lessen anxiety. In the digital age though, it is much easier to access porn online and watch whatever fantasies you have being played out. But as we can all probably agree, these depictions are an incredibly unrealistic depiction of a “natural” or “normal” sex life. If I still had the link I’d post it here…but basically, the article said that natural dopamine sensitivity in the brain is critical in sexual responsiveness, and with constant exposure to those videos, the brain doesn’t get a chance to recover from that extreme surge in dopamine and stimulation. As a result, a “normal” sexual encounter isn’t that arousing and the young men cannot perform without more stimulation. To tie it back to the original topic though, perhaps one theory regarding why millennials aren’t as sexually active is because it doesn’t, or can’t, excite them. It’s unfortunate considering that the problem can easily be fixed simply by cutting down on how much porn they’re watching, or quit watching altogether.

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      RedRoverRedRover August 3, 2016, 7:38 pm

      I think too, the guy makes a point that’s pretty understandable. If you use porn, you know you’re getting excited and you know you’re getting off. If you date, you don’t know the outcome, and it will definitely take more work. With all of us (not just millenials) getting more and more used to instant gratification, I think people might be losing patience with things that take time with no guaranteed gratification at the end.

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  • Miel

    Miel August 3, 2016, 3:09 pm

    One thing that isn’t mentioned, and that to me seems more important than the “catching feelings thing” is the more comprehensive sexual educations and the smaller taboo about sex and sexual health for our generation compared to others. If I remember correctly, we do see an increase of the average age for the first sexual relationship and a decrease in partner numbers for teenagers and young adults that have received comprehensive sex ed throughout their life.

    Could it be that we have heard about “condoms”, “using protection”, “get tested with your partner”, “this is what herpes looks like”, and “This method of birth control is only effective at 85%” more than the generation before us, and as a result a lot of us have decided to be more careful about who we have sex with and under what circumstances?

    I know I’ve thought a lot about what sort of sex life I wanted, what sort of birth control I would use and what sort of person I would want to have sex with. And that made me wait a bit longer instead of having sex at the first opportunity…

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    • avatar

      girltuesday August 3, 2016, 3:42 pm

      Totally. I recently decided my 99.7% (perfect use) pill was not enough (LOL) and got a Nexplanon. Perhaps we are just more paranoid.

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      • LadyinPurpleNotRed

        LadyinPurpleNotRed August 3, 2016, 3:46 pm

        Ooooh! how are you liking it? My doctor recommended that for me since I can’t get an IUD.

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        girltuesday August 3, 2016, 4:26 pm

        I’ve had good luck with it! I’ve had a few side effects but they’ve gone away. I had headaches the first month. I also noticed my skin is more oily than usual. Other than that, it’s pretty easy!

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      • LadyinPurpleNotRed

        LadyinPurpleNotRed August 3, 2016, 6:07 pm

        Okay. Not terrible. Good to know! Thanks!!!

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark August 3, 2016, 3:52 pm

    Hard to get laid when you are running around like an idiot collecting Pokemons on your iphone…

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    • kare

      kare August 3, 2016, 4:31 pm

      Not in my generation – I’ve gotten laid more this month than I have in awhile despite my Pokémon Go use.

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    tarheelblue87 August 3, 2016, 4:53 pm

    I’m a millenial. I have spent most of my 20s building my career and settling into a home. I never was terribly interested in dating back on school because I was focused on college and in college I was determined to graduate. Now I am in my late 20s and fairly established but not hung up on trying to settle down. I have never hooked up or casually dated frankly it gives me anxiety. I want to meet a nice guy and go from there. For me sex means more than a physical act but trusting someone with your heart and emotions. I’m introverted so it doesn’t come easily to me. Glad to know others feel similarly.

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    shakeourtree August 3, 2016, 5:13 pm

    I’m an older Millenial, so I can’t speak for the young ones, but I would say that we are having less sex because we’re having fewer serious relationships. We’re not having serious relationships in large part because it takes us longer to establish stability in our careers and our finances.
    .
    Jobs are hard to find, so we move for a job or we move back in with our parents. We uproot ourselves for grad school. Then when grad school is over, we move again for a job. All of that is harder to pull off when you have to consider two people’s preferences, career opportunities, educational needs, families, etc.
    .
    I admit that I relate to the sentiment that a relationship would distract from my work. It took a lot of time, education, and money to get the job, and now that I have the job, I have to prove myself and my value because I’ve got student debt to worry about. I recognize that there is an ongoing Tinderization of dating, but I honestly think that it is more of an effect than a cause.

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      RedRoverRedRover August 3, 2016, 7:40 pm

      Yeah, but as a Gen X-er, I had most of my partners before I graduated university. Isn’t that generally the case? Millenials are still going to school, but they’re not partnering up there the way Gen X did, apparently. Why?

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      • kare

        kare August 3, 2016, 9:00 pm

        I dated the same person for all of college. Most of my friends in college were also in serious relationships. Even if I had been single, I was kind of a late bloomer so I probably wouldn’t have had many partners anyways. Plus I was not at parties – I was taking 18-24 credit hours a semester and working as a personal assitant/nanny in my spare time. Once I got a real job, I increased my number significantly. I don’t have the desire to settle down because I’m focused on work and getting my life in order, so casual hookups are fine for me. I think millenials are going to catch up over time. Those of us currently single will have partners as we figure out what we want and will probably settle down sometime in our 30s. A portion of the millenials that married or cohabite at a young age (which is the overwhelming majority of my high school and college friends) will end up divorced and probably enter a period of sexual revolution.

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    dietcokeaddict August 3, 2016, 8:51 pm

    I’m an older millennial and I think this is true. We actually actively used the phrase “keeping my number down”. Generally, my friends and I wouldn’t just sleep with anyone. There were definitely standards – it didn’t necessarily need to be someone you were going introduce to your parents but you wanted to actually know and like them and have some kind of FWB relationship at a bare minimum instead of going home with a person you just met and of course protection from STDs and pregnancy was a MUST.

    In terms of less sex with partners, I wonder if part of this is because more couples live together now before marriage. Once you live with someone, inevitably daily life takes over and gets in the way a little plus the mystique of your partner is gone. I have to think this includes both married millennials and living together millennials. As a married millennial with really little kids, I can totally confirm the decrease in opportunity and desire too (I am so freaking tired!). I mean I know I was sleeping through the night by elementary school so I have to think this time of exhaustion and having to sleep in big girl beds sometimes is almost over 😉

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