Apparently our generation is having much less sex than our parents. Articles and studies about the very low sexual activity of millennials increasingly argue that, despite a very liberated sexual climate, millennials are having much less sex than their parents. E&M author Kai Moeritz has come across such studies and wonders why that is.

Sexual activity: boomers vs millenials

A common conception in the seemingly endless debate about Generation Y, Z, millennial in comparison to the their parents’ generation, the boomers, seems to be that patterns of dating changed significantly. How are the millenials and boomers usually described in terms of factors which may affect dating life and sexual activity?

Whilst boomers had a much a shorter youth (less university education, earlier entry into labour markets), they were also more religious and they usually found partners who they married early. They were able to build a family early and cared for their future.

Millenials, on the other hand, have sex earlier, use hook-up applications like Grindr and Tinder, are more open about sexual orientation and practices, increasingly engage in open-relationships (amid a low absolute level), portray their fabulous life on Instagram and are increasingly individualistic.

Following these perceptions, one may intuitively think that millenials should have significantly more sex. However, the data suggests otherwise. According to an Economist article, reported sexual inactivity among young Americans between the age of 18 and 29 during a full year (!) doubled between the 1990s and the 2010s. Other surveys seem to come to the same conclusion.

Is it true that our generation has less sex?

So it would seem: survey data is not particularly rich, yet consistent.

The above mentioned factors could lead to conclusions in both directions.

  • For instance, one may argue that early marriage comes with secured sex and less need to find a regular partner. On the other hand, Tinder and Grindr and other such apps should facilitate easy hook-ups for singles.
  • Less conservative and less religious parents may be more open about their children hooking up. Yet, the boomers may steer their millenial kids towards pursuing careers and following their example of embracing economic safety (instead of fooling around).
  • In terms of unintended side-effects of having sex, the lower spread of AIDS or lacking awareness in the 70s and 80s should be a plus for boomers’s sexual behaviour, while increased availability of birth control might be one for millenials.

Overall, in terms of sex life, both generations seemed to have their advantages and disadvantages. In sum, the level of sexual activity could have been stable but non sexually active young people apparently increased in the United States, Japan and other developed countries. What drives the, from my perspective, surprisingly high gap? What might be a real game-changer?

Why do we have less sex? It is not clear

Unlike surveys of sexual activities, the reasons for our generation’s decrease in sexual activity do not find much consensus. Journalists, psychologists and other academics come up with a variety of explanations.

It’s the economics, stupid?

Millenials, unlike their parents, experienced an economic crisis. Most individuals surveyed in the above mentioned studies have already experienced great economic uncertainty. They started their education or entered the job market in a crisis or post-crisis environment. The link between economic growth, unemployment numbers and increased public and private debt with less sexual activity is not an obvious one. Basic economic indicators may simply engender stress and change your focus in life. In fact, many members of our generation are concerned about their future, stressed to find a place in this world. I think everyone can agree that stress and anxiety do not step up your dating game and that a mind full of doubts does not generate confidence in your own sex appeal nor benefit your libido.

Marriage as a safe haven for sex?

Most likely, the seemingly most clear explanation. Less marriage (and committed relationships) means more singles. Singles need to find sex partners while couples do not. Same holds for ‘friends with benefits’ or other type of relationships. Tinder, Grindr and other dating apps increase the likelihood of casual sex and amount of sex partners. However, it seems highly likely that the possibility of increased casual sex will not outweigh the constant availability of a sex partner. Hence, the boomer generation may have had more regular sex than we do. Another effect may be that the first time with a partner may not be the best time, so people have a lot of mediocre or even bad sex which won’t trigger fascination for activity of having sex in itself.

What about the Internet?

As already mentioned, the internet allows to find sex partners in an almost scarily efficient manner. Instagram feeds clearly show that there are so many good looking, super relaxed people enjoying the best lives possible. How can these people not have sex all the time? After a fabulous dinner at the coolest place and the best party, ironically pretending to embrace the moment and the beauty of life, shouldn’t you end up having (more) sex? Well it is a fraud, in reality most people who spend their time looking at a phone screen, hoping for likes and followers, may turn socially awkward in real life – or at least not much confident. And as it is, sex happens in real life. So being unable to approach people in a bar (or in bed after matching on Tinder) is not ideal for one’s sexual activity.

For males (and to a lesser extent females), they can match the fraud they are selling on Instagram with plenty of porn, yet jerking off isn’t an actual sexual interaction.

Which leads us to the next possible explanation: the unlimited availability of porn. Accessing porn online means that any young (or not so young) person can fulfil their immediate needs, while discovering incredible sexual possibilities. This means that for a lot of people, and in particular young males, the availability of porn can translate into much less sex in real life: either because they feel no need for the actual deed, or because they might be scared of not being able to perform as well as the stars on their screens do.

All in all, it is hard to identify the specific causes for our generation’s lower sexual activity. Yet, there are many possible explanations that we can all somewhat relate to. Isn’t it scary to think that our generation, with all its talk of sexual liberation and openness too all kinds of behaviours, is actually having much less sex compared to our parents’ – and probably much less fun?

Cover Photo: Pablo Merchán Montes (Unsplash), C00

  • retro

    Kai Möritz is German and European and sees no contradiction in this. He studied economic policy in Budapest, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, with a focus on European affairs. After finishing his studies, he moved to Brussels to work for the European Parliament's Research Service. He stayed in Brussels and now works as lobbyist. Besides politics, he likes travelling and the internet.

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