Millennials aren’t having sex

Not so much for some.
Not so much for some.
Image: Reuters/Jason Lee
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Even though millennials have been described as deep steeped in hookup culture, they may actually be having less sex than previous generations.

Researchers from San Diego State University, Florida Atlantic University, and Widener University analyzed data from a survey given to a wide range of Americans. In a paper published (paywall) in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, they found that more millennials between 20- and 24-years-old reported having no sexual partners than the same demographic of people born in the 1960s.

According to the General Social Survey, which has been used for decades to collect data from over 26,000 Americans about their social behavior, just over 6% of 20 to 24-year-olds born between 1965 and 1969 reported having no sexual partners after the age of 18, compared to more than 15% of the same age group born between 1990 and 1994. The growing tendency to not to have sex at a young age was even more pronounced in women: 5.4% of millennial women were sexually inactive, up from the 2.3% of Generation X women at that age.

It’s hard to suss out exactly why young people aren’t having sex these days. More millennials are living at home with their parents (a mood-killer, to be sure)—but maybe the trend is because they’re more aware of sexually transmitted infections than previous generations. Maybe it’s because pornography is more readily available than ever before thanks to the internet, and they don’t feel the need to seek sex with another person.

Or maybe hookup culture itself is to blame: Millennials could very well be doing something sexual with each other—they just “largely engage in nonpenetrative behaviors that may actually make it easier to delay vaginal sex,” the authors write.

Although Ryne Sherman, a social psychologist at Florida Atlantic University and co-author of the paper, can’t pinpoint a specific reason for the generational shift, he believes that the trend among women may be related to a growing awareness of the disproportionate social consequences of having sex. “Most of the words for men having sex with a lot of people are not as negative” as those used for women, he said. The language used to describe women who have a lot of sex can be damaging to their reputations. 

Before you get your panties in a twist, these survey results don’t say that all millennials aren’t having sex—just the number of those who were having none at all increased. Also, the trend might be a sign that today’s generation of young adults has a strong sense of identity than their predecessors: Sherman speculates that millennials are having less sex because they feel less pressure from their peers. “[The] rise in individualism allows young American adults to have permissive attitudes without feeling the pressure to conform in their own behavior,” he said in a press release.