Culture

Why Are Millennials Having Less Sex Than Their Parents?

Image Via Shutterstock, teenage girl holds her hand up, saying "Stop!"

Millennials, young people born in the 1980s and 1990s, are having less sex with fewer people than the two generations that came before them, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. There are many reasons behind this shift, but third-wave feminism’s escalating definition of “consent” stands out.

“Third-wave feminists seem to be crazy, saying that all men are participating in this rape culture,” 18-year-old Noah Patterson told The Washington Post. He gets his sexual experiences through pornography, and said he isn’t all that curious about sex. “I’ve seen so much of it. … There isn’t really anything magical about it, right?”

This demystification of sex might help explain why younger millennials are more than twice as likely to be sexually inactive in their early 20s than their Generation X parents were.

The new report found that 15 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds have not had sex since turning 18 (in the early 1990s that number was at 6 percent). Another study last year found that while millennials are more accepting of extramarital sex, they reported fewer sexual partners than any group since the 1960s. The Baby Boomer average was 11, the Generation X number was 10, and millennials were down to 8.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the percentage of high school students who have had sex fell to 41 percent in 2015, down from 54 percent in 1991 and 47 percent in 2013.

Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families, argued that the trend away from sex might reflect women feeling more empowered to say no. “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,” she told the Post. “We are far less accepting of pressured sex.”

Of course, women should not be pressured into having sex, but modern college campuses have become so fearful of an alleged “rape culture” that they are instituting ever more draconian regulations about intercourse.

Harvard professors have warned about a new “sex bureaucracy” which regulates sexual intercourse and “operates largely apart from criminal enforcement, but its actions are inseparable from criminal overtones and implications.”

In 2014, a George Mason University student was wrongfully expelled for engaging in consensual sex with his girlfriend of one year. After the break-up, the girl told school officials and police about what she considered in hindsight to be sexual assault.

If men and boys must live in fear that their sexual partner will later report them for rape, is it any wonder that guys like Patterson choose to avoid the danger altogether?

Next Page: Other reasons why millennials are having less sex, and why it may actually be a good thing.

Of course, there are other reasons for the sex drop-off as well. The Post spoke with experts who cited “pressure to succeed, social lives increasingly conducted on-screen, unrealistic expectations of physical perfection encouraged by dating apps and wariness over date rape.”

In addition to fear about third-wave feminists, Patterson said that a date would be a distraction for him. A web designer, he likes to sit in front of several screens at once: a work project, a YouTube video, and a video game. “For an average date, you’re going to spend at least two hours, and in that two hours I won’t be doing something I enjoy,” he said.

Cutting off social interaction for screen time sounds terrifying to many. As a millennial myself, I think the danger is slightly overstated: we still like to meet up with friends and I enjoy frequent dates with my wife. But there is an undeniable temptation to prioritize the screen — my iPhone is always with me.

Young people also tend to be rather ambitious, and Patterson’s focus on making money also distracts him from real interactions with women. The desire to succeed can indeed be a good thing, but it can also impede quality of life.

There are some ways in which cutting down on sex may actually be a healthy thing for millennials. Some experts say being intentional about when to have sex can strengthen relationships in the long run (to which conservative Christians say, “Of course! It’s called marriage.”).

The Post also interviewed Sam Wei, a 26-year-old financial analyst in Chicago, who has not had sex since her last relationship ended 18 months ago. But she still makes out with guys and likes to cuddle. “To me, there’s more intimacy with having someone there next to you that you can rely on without having to have sex,” she said.

“I don’t want to do anything that would harm the relationship and be something that we can’t come back from.” As a conservative Christian who finds our over-sexed culture distressing, I find some hope in her answers. There is a chance we can work toward sanity about sex — avoiding both the draconian measures on college campuses and the craze of the 1960s.