To talk about adults without talking about their sex drives is like talking about a window without glass. —Grace Metalious
My 18-year-old son recently moved in with us, something that makes me very happy. He’s a great kid and I love having him around. Since the amount of space we have is small, however, one of the first things we did with him was set down some guidelines regarding having girls over. Basically, we told him to limit such activity to when the little ones are either at school or asleep, pretty much the same rules we hold for ourselves.
He rolled his eyes in that way only a teenager can do effectively. “I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” he said. He then pulled his 3DS (handheld gaming console) from his pocket and headed toward his room.
This is the new millennial, the younger end of that generation, between the ages of 18-25. They are markedly different in their attitudes towards sex than any generation before them. While they like sex, they’re having a lot less than their immediate predecessors. Compared to their parents’ over-sexed generation, the kids almost seem prudish. What the hell is going on? Do we need to be concerned about this?
Of Course, There’s A Study
The Washington Post published an extensive article on this very topic last week. This is where newspapers such the Post really shine. They’ve taken the work of a fairly involved study [Twenge, J.M., Sherman, R.A. & Wells, B.E. Arch Sex Behav (2016). doi:10.1007/s10508-016-0798-z] and put some real-world application to the academics. The numbers are fairly daunting. Consider this:
Among those aged 20–24, more than twice as many Millennials born in the 1990s (15 %) had no sexual partners since age 18 compared to GenX’ers born in the 1960s (6 %).
Think about that. Fifteen percent of those 20-24 years old have had no sex at all since they were 18. That means they’ve gone as much as six years without sex. For most of those from my generation, anything over six months has us at a point of desperation. Not these kids, though. They’re just fine waiting, and that may not be a bad thing. Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families, told the Post:
As people have gotten much more accepting of all sorts of forms of consensual sex, they’ve also gotten more picky about what constitutes consent. We are far less accepting of pressured sex.
What the details of the study point out is that the sexual attitudes of this generation might actually be more progressive than any before them.
Taking Control of the Situation
While there are multiple reasons for the decreasing numbers regarding sexual activity, one aspect that stands out is the degree to which women are more in control of their sexual experiences. Recent attitude shifts regarding things such as on-campus date rape have resulted not only in severe crackdowns on such activities, but an increased awareness that has women on guard and watching for such dangers.
Redefining consent has also played a significant role. Young men are now, rightfully, being taught that a drunken “yes” is still a no. Even more, most young women regard such attempts to get them drunk as downright creepy. Where their predecessors might have hit the clubs with the intention of letting someone else pay for their drinks and risk the consequences of inappropriate behavior, young women today are more likely to pay for their own drinks so as to control both content and quantity. They’ve heard too many stories of young men who were not to be trusted, so they are responding in a way that makes sense.
Pick up lines aren’t working like they once did, either. They’re not working at all, in most cases, and gender doesn’t necessarily matter. Both men and women within this younger age range are likely to completely ignore advances from someone outside their group without a previous introduction. Those who approach people they don’t know are likely to be seen as predatory. This is a generation that is all too familiar with stories of rape and kidnapping at the hands of strangers. Their trust level is already low. Why would they trust someone hitting on them?
Care Regarding Relationships
Another significant factor in this trend away from sex is that young millennials are more cautious about entering into relationships. Specifically, they want to avoid those relationships that are not going to be long term. They don’t want the baggage of running into an ex at their favorite coffee shop. They don’t want to mess with the emotional turmoil. In short, they don’t want to make the same mistakes they’ve likely watched their divorced or single parents make.
Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University and chief scientific adviser to the dating site Match.com told the Post:
It’s a highly motivated, ambitious generation. 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.
Well, that’s assuming they’re “studying.” This is a generation not yet ready to be tied down to anything, especially a person. Not having sex does more than keep them out of a dating relationship, it keeps them from having children they don’t want as well. Again, women of this age are very sensitive to maintaining control over their bodies. The difference between being tied to a baby or tied to a boyfriend isn’t that significant and many young women don’t want either of them.
Don’t Forget The Geek Factor
Norman Spack, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, tells the Post:
The nature of communication now is anti-sexual. People are not spending enough time alone just together. There’s another gorilla in the room: It’s whatever is turned on electronically.
Characteristics and habits that many young adults now embrace would have been considered “nerdy” or “geeky” by their parents’ generation. Had you told me 30 years ago about a video game that involved tracking make-believe creatures out in public, I would have laughed and called you a geek. Now, I think I’m the only one not running all over the place playing Pokèmon Go. In public.
Video games aren’t the only distraction, mind you. Many young adults would rather sit home and binge-watch a television series than go out and interact with people. Then, there are the omnipresent social media that sufficiently distracts people of every age, allowing hours to pass without any direct human interaction. There are so many other things to do, things that don’t involve risks of disease or emotions, that many millennials would rather not be bothered with the whole dating thing.
More Than 72 Virgins
While this study looked specifically at the habits of young adults, the Post also raises information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that sexual activity is down among high school students as well. One of the things I found surprising was the number of people interviewed who admitted to still being virgins despite being well into their twenties. None of them cited any religious reason, mind you. In fact, religious influence doesn’t factor in any significant way throughout the study, something that is probably worthy of deeper consideration.
Rather, young millennials are content enough with other forms of activity, or inactivity, so as to not make sex a priority in their lives. More are holding out for that “perfect” relationship that will lead to marriage and kids (we’ll not tell them the bad news about that pipe dream just yet). Many are focusing first on their careers. More are dedicated to building a lifetime of other experiences that are less likely to tie them down. Sex would just get in the way and, since they’ve never actually experienced it, they don’t miss it. As a result, there may be more virgins in the US now than there has been since the 1950s.
There Are Still Consequences
All this talk about not having sex, paired with other data showing that couples are putting off having children or not having them at all, does have a couple of negative factors to be considered. One is that we could be looking at a future where there are not enough people to handle all the jobs the future will create. Already, we’ve been hearing of shortages of farm workers, and Nicolas Colas, chief market strategist for Convergex, told Bloomberg last year that we’re beginning to run out of “employable workers.” That is, those with specific education and experience in the fields where they are most needed.
Not that the world population is in any danger, mind you. There are still plenty of countries churning out more babies than they can support. What this means, however, is that immigration is likely to become an even more critical issue in the future as there are fewer people already here capable of filling the job market. Historically, we have not handled such situations terribly well. Just ask the Chinese who worked the railroads, or the Irish who built up our cities.
There is also the danger that this generation may not know how to handle intimacy and might run from it or respond to it inappropriately. This isn’t something we’ve dealt with on a large scale before and we, as a society, are ill-equipped to deal with a generation of loners, those who have few social skills and avoid public encounters. Everything from the retail economy to work environments could be adversely affected.
It’s Only 15 Percent
This is the point at which someone needs to emphasize that the vast majority of people are still having lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of sex and enjoying every minute of it. We’re only talking about 15 percent of the millennials population that is not having sex. Any great level of worry about a negative outcome or adverse affect on society is probably misplaced. Relax, kids, everything’s fine.
What we must realize, though, is that attitudes toward sex, across the board, are changing dramatically. Younger generations don’t hold the same viewpoints toward sex that their parents did and it’s on my generation, we old folks who were fucking anything and everything, consequences be damned, to get up to speed. Much of the behavior we considered “normal” in the 60s and 70s was hurtful and does not need to be continued. This younger generation is improving society, correcting our errors, and building a better world.
Okay, so not as many of us will have grandkids to bounce on our knees and spoil. Or if we do, we may have to wait longer to get them. That’s not a bad thing. Our children are more likely to make life decisions that don’t place them in compromising positions. You know, the kind that made you have to abandon your hopes and dreams to deal with a reality that sucked.
Now, if we could just get them to write better music.