The next time your parents offer you sex advice, you just might want to take it, because according to a recent study by Florida Atlantic University, they are probably having a lot more sex than you are. Today’s perceived “hookup culture” is embodied by a wide array of dating apps promising commitment-free one-night stands, giving rise to the notion that young adults are wanton sex addicts in constant search of casual flings.
But nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth.
The study found that both millennials (born between 1980-1994) and iGeners (born between 1995-2012) are actually having less sex than previous generations — and by a significant margin.
While the study found that the 6.31 percent of people born between 1965 and 1969 were sexually inactive when they were between 20-24 years old, that number increased to 15.1 percent for those born between 1990-1994. The reasons for the shift were unclear.
Ryne Sherman, Ph.D., coauthor of the study and associate professor of psychology in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science at FAU, says the study found the rate of sexual inactivity higher among those without a college education. “One possibility is that those who don’t attend college are missing a key part of life where there’s opportunities for hookups to happen,” says Sherman.
He is quick to point out that the term “sex” used in the interview questions may have different connotations for different survey respondents.
“It’s possible that millennials are still hooking up, [but] they’re just not having sexual intercourse, or whatever they’re doing, they’re not considering that to be sex,” Sherman says of the report’s citation that while 81 percent of college students report engaging in some sexual behavior in the context of hooking up, only 34 percent report that behavior to be intercourse.
The study is based upon data collected between 1989 and 2014 by the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey and includes a representative sampling of 26,707 men and women over the age of 18 from a variety of sexual orientations, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds.
Sherman says a number of factors may explain the increase in sexual inactivity, including the 2008 economic downturn, which found many youngsters unemployed, living at home, and delaying marriage.
“It could be difficult to bring somebody back to the house if you’re staying with your parents,” he says.
Additionally, Sherman says today’s high rates of technology usage may be partially responsible. “The internet, via social media for example, offers the opportunity for people to meet their social needs without actually being with other people,” he says.
Sherman says that a typical Friday night in the' 70s and '80s may have been a football game or other social activity, while now it is often self-gratification via Netflix, social media or internet porn. “Pornography allows expression of sexual urges without actually having sex,” he says.
Sherman says another hypothesis for the increase in sexual inactivity may point to something else entirely: a rise in individualism. “Even though the number of people believing in God really hasn’t changed, church attendance has gone way down,” Sherman says. “That’s pretty individualistic. People still believe in God and want to go to heaven but feel less pressure to conform to religious standards of behavior.”
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Whether or not American culture has shifted to value individual self-expression over social rules, Sherman says the study’s findings are still surprising. “In this case, we think that the individual social rules should lead to more sexual activity rather than more sexual inactivity, so in some ways this study seems counter to that,” he says.
Further research, Sherman says, seems to imply a new area of increased sexual activity. “We did an additional analysis afterward, and we just looked at the current generation of 20- to 24-year-olds who are in college, and they have more sexual activity,” says Sherman. “That sounds like a little contrary to the overall analysis.”
Another possible explanation for the rise in the number of those choosing to forego sex is widespread AIDS awareness and sexual education training in school, which may have an effect on sexual behavior. “The CDC has shown that young people today are engaging in risky behaviors at a far lower rate than previous generations,” Sherman says, “so they are not smoking, doing drugs, or drinking alcohol as much. This [study] is just another piece of evidence that seems to say that maybe this kind of training is working.”