The millennial generation, born in the 1990s, is having a lot less premarital sex than the generations before them, and some of the reasons why are surprising. Previous generations, including Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers born in the 1950s and 60s, sowed a lot of wild oats before marriage, but millennials are not following suit. Although they express a high level of tolerance for sex before marriage – in 2012 58 percent said they saw nothing wrong with it – they just aren’t doing it. In fact, a new study found that 15 percent of young adults between the ages of 20 and 24 have had no sexual partners since age 18. One in three 20-somethings have never had sex at all. On the other hand, only 6 percent of Generation Xers could claim the same. Only people born in the 1920s reported having less sex early in life.
Study co-author Ryne Sherman, associate professor of psychology at Florida Atlantic University, said that the findings challenge “the widespread notion that Millennials are the ‘hookup’ generation, which is popularized by dating apps like ‘Tinder’ and others, suggesting that they are just looking for quick relationships and frequent casual sex.” On the contrary, Millennials are “not more promiscuous than their predecessors.”
According to the researchers, several possible reasons exist for the drop in sexual activity among young adults today, and those reasons can only be found through a randomized control trial, which is impossible to do in the area of premarital sex. This leaves researchers to speculate, but study author Jean Twenge, psychology professor at San Diego State University, has some compelling ideas.
The study team believes a big factor is safety. Millennials have grown up with education about sexually transmitted diseases. Twenge says that the message is that it is possible to get sick or even die from sex, which is strongly impacting sexual behavior. The safety message has spilled over into other areas as well. Underage drinking has never been lower, and college campus protests frequently call for safe spaces. Today’s 20-somethings also smoke less, have fewer teenage pregnancies, and the crime rate is half what it was 20 years ago.
Another theory is electronic devices. Young people increasingly live on their phones, communicating with people electronically. Not seeing friends in person would certainly lead to less sex.
Young adults today may be averse to doing what Mom and Dad did, and premarital sex is one. Other factors are that what Mom and Dad did led to drug addiction, high divorce rates, and teenage pregnancies, so many Millennials have grown up demonstrating more conservative social behavior.
Cross-generational sex talks have become increasingly awkward considering the behavior of current young adults when compared to that of their parents. Although Millennials are talking about these issues with their Boomer parents, the parents may squirm about divulging how many sexual partners they had before settling down.
The study was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, and asked more than 33,000 people of all age groups about the number of sexual partners they had had.