Millennials aren’t having nearly as much sex as you think they’re having.
If you have bought into popular-media portrayals of adults born in the 1990s—and especially if you read that Vanity Fair article last year about the coming “dating apocalypse”—you might believe that millennials are the “hookup generation,” swiping left and right, moving from partner to partner and bed to bed with ease.
But as it turns out, the “hookup generation” appears to be a media myth.
According to a new study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, millennials born in the 1990s were “significantly more likely to have no sexual partners” than Gen Xers. In fact, controlled for age and time period, the only generation with a higher rate of sexual inactivity than today’s 20- to 24-year-olds was the one born in the 1920s.
“I wouldn’t say we set out to do this but, in some ways, it’s a response to that [Vanity Fair] article,” Ryne Sherman, an assistant professor of psychology at Florida Atlantic University and co-author on the study, told The Daily Beast.
Sherman and the study’s lead author, Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, were actually interviewed for that widely read Vanity Fair essay, which painted a grim view of Tinder’s effects on 21st-century dating culture.
At the time, Sherman, Twenge, and sex educator Brooke Wells had found that millennials will actually have fewer sexual partners than Gen Xers and a comparable number to baby boomers—a conclusion Sherman said he stressed to the style magazine.
But the finished Vanity Fair article referenced—and dismissed—that finding in a paragraph that was awkwardly jammed into the middle of an anecdote about twentysomethings talking about OKCupid at an East Village sake bar.
Hanging out at urban watering holes and on college campuses might give the illusion of a “hookup generation,” it seems, but the facts paint a different picture.
“Our data show that this doesn’t seem to be the case at all, and that millennials are not more promiscuous than their predecessors,” said Sherman.
Twenge, Sherman, and Wells’ new study analyzed responses to the General Social Survey, a nationally representative poll that asks about the number of sexual partners people have had since age 18, controlling for age and time period.
They found that 15 percent of Americans in their early twenties who were born in the 1990s reported being sexually inactive as compared to only 6 percent of those born in the late 1960s. Not only do millennials appear to be having sex with fewer partners, more of them are abstaining from sex in their twenties altogether.
The results, Sherman said, came as a surprise even after his previous research.
“We had a hint because we had already seen that the total number of sexual partners was down,” he said. “But we didn’t know that abstinence would be up.”
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