What is it with these millennials? The twenty-something generation has grown up in the sexual revolution. Theirs is a brave new world where everyone has complete access to the most sexually gratifying life experiences. They are more aware of sex, know more about sex and have seen more explicit sex than just about any generation in human history.
And yet, they are retiring from the fun fest. Unless you think that less is more, they seem to be suffering from sexual deprivation.
Millennials have not been liberated for sex; they have been liberated from sex. After all that sex education; after all that porn watching; after all those admonitions to use a condom; after all the talk about sexual abuse and rape culture; after all those demystifying open conversations about all matters sexual sex… millennials have turned off of sex.
Could it be that all the exposure has desensitized them to sexual stimuli? It appears that the sexual revolution, coupled with various liberation movements, has killed sex.
The statistic is shocking. Time Magazine reports it:
But if millennials are going to keep sowing their wild oats into middle age, another recent study suggests they’ll need to up their game: less than 7% of 20-somethings have sex 2-5 times per week, according to data from online dating service Match, and 49% of people in their 20s have not had sex at all in the past year.
You think that that is bad:
The study says one in three 20-somethings have never had sex at all.
33 13% of twenty somethings are virgins. Perhaps we have all missed something: they might have a calling. They might be preparing to join the celibate clergy.
Statistics are statistics. The real question is: how do we interpret them?
Dr. Helen Fisher thinks that these youngsters are pursuing their careers and are more serious about committed relationships:
You’d think they’d be focused on sleeping around, but really what they’re focused on is getting ahead,” explains Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University and Chief Scientific Advisor for Match. “In their 20s I think they’re working very hard. There’s something to be said for the fact that they may be taking relationships and commitment more seriously.”
Is the esteemed Dr. Fisher telling us that working hard precludes the occasional sexual romp? Does she think that people who take their relationships and commitments more seriously will necessarily have fewer of them and have less sex?
As a rule people in committed relationships have more sex than do those who troll bars looking for a random hookup. The question that ought to arise is this: why aren’t millennials developing romantic relationships? Are they too busy running the world? Are they turned off to sex? Are they so demoralized that they do want to bother with it? Do they think it’s too risky?
Surely, a hard-working millennial must have some vestige of a hormonally driven tendency to have sex. Do they deal with it by watching porn? Are they involved in solo sexual performances, what used to be called self-abuse?
One assumes that when Time talks about having sex it is referring to coitus. For all I know it could be including the other variants, too.
Another researcher suggests that it’s all about the fear of STDs.
Time reports the opinions of Dr. Jeffrey Arnett:
That seriousness is reflected in the way millennials calculate risky behavior, which is a big part of sexual activity. “This is a generation that has grown up with an awareness of HIV/AIDS,” explains Jeffrey Arnett a research professor at Clark University and author of Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood. “When the boomers were in their heyday, that didn’t exist and it seemed like free love was a good idea.” He also notes that millennials are much more likely to use condoms than boomers ever were.
When AIDS was a more active threat, people were acutely aware of the danger. Today, not so much. But they also knew that they could avoid the risk of AIDS by not participating in certain kinds of sexual behavior with specific classes of people. I am sure that I need not elaborate.
So, I am not entirely persuaded by the AIDS scare theory.
Arnett offers another explanation. Young people today, having watched their parents crash their lives with decadent behavior, have chosen to remain celibate:
Arnett says millennials may see their elders’ licentious behavior as a cautionary tale. “It’s not only that they have fewer sexual partners than the baby boomers did, but they also drink less, they smoke less, the crime rate is half now than it was 20 years ago, teenage pregnancy has plummeted—it’s part of this broader pattern of less risky behavior,” he explains.
“It could be that the children saw the consequences of not following the rules—high divorce rates, drug addiction, and a lot of teenage pregnancy and so on, and there are many of them who have grown up to be more conservative in terms of some of their own social behavior.”
I am wholly in sympathy with the notion that people should follow rules-- I’m working on a book-length manuscript on the topic. I accept that people have learned the value of rule following by observing what happened to those who did not follow them.
But, this thesis does not tell us why these same young people have not gotten married and settled down. It’s one thing to abandon hookups and decadence. It’s quite another thing to abandon romantic relationships at an age when your biology wants you to embrace them.
One might think that the problem lies with women. Even though the magazine article does not distinguish between men and women,we might imagine that women who are building their careers are less interested in getting married while in their twenties. But, does this preclude dating or any form of romantic relationship?
Since we do not have a demographic breakdown of these numbers, we will add that we know that more than a quarter of this year’s graduating class at Harvard had not had sex during the four years they spent at school. One suspects that this group comprised the nerds and geeks who are now working at Google and Facebook, the group that landed the most desirable jobs out of college.
It is altogether possible that many college (and high school) students experiment with sex—as they were told to do—only to discover that it is not a panacea for everything that is ailing them. As they watched other students spend more time in the library and less time getting wasted perhaps they figured out that licentiousness was not the way to go.
Still, even this interpretation does not explain why so many of these young people have embraced the other extreme. Perhaps, given their overexposure to sex and whatever experimentation they indulged during their formative years, they needed to regain their moral bearings by becoming celibate for a time.
Such was the moral of Hephzibah Anderson’ s fine book: Chastened: The Unexpected Story of My Yearwithout Sex.