Once again, it is being pointed out how millennials just cannot seem to get things right. Generation X and the Baby Boomers are constantly lamenting about our lack of jobs, our overwhelming debt, and apparent inability to grow up. While the generation gap is nothing new, it seems as though any article you read with the word “millennial” in the headline will have a judgmental, “things just aren’t what they used to be” overtone. Time and time again, I read about how over-sexualized our generation is, as judged by the clothing, television programming, and music that we consume (read: that is marketed to us by members of these previous generations). This may be true, but regardless of its verity, this latest accusation on our lifestyles has come as a bit of a shock to me.
A recent article in the Guardian cites a study, the “National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles“ conducted by University College London concluding that millennials are having less sex than other generations. (“Why is Generation Y having less sex?” 03.18.14) According to the study, “women were having sex an average of 4.8 times a month and men, 4.9. Ten years ago this was 6.3 and 6.2, and 10 years before that, 6.1 and 6.4.” So now, not only can millennials not get a job after graduation, but they also can’t get any.
It is nearly impossible to argue with numbers, and that is not the intention. The issue here is with The Guardian’s reasoning for these figures. Their conclusion is predictable and trite, citing a reason that pervades all of the millennial critiques. According to the article, “It’s not as simple as getting into bed, turning the lights out, and getting it on. These days, there’s always something better to do—checking your emails, going through your sister’s holiday photo album on Facebook or even reading a sex feature on the Guardian’s website…”
The fact that they use this overplayed argument discredits a lot of their ultimate conclusion: that because of this technological overload, millennials overanalyze sex and, therefore, would prefer to refrain than provoke their widespread “sexual anxieties,” a term that is used here so lightly that it demeans the true definition of a condition. While technology has had huge effects on the way that this generation has developed, this finding appears under-researched and overly critical of how we use our technology and our personal time.
Although our generation is tech-savvy, that does not imply that we are tech-addicted. I do not know of anyone who would prefer to have an online interaction with friends to an in-person one, and I find it hard to believe that our generation finds it more entertaining to check email and read the news than to have sex. The Internet, conversely, seems to make it easier to communicate with people that one might be nervous to approach in person, and Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter do just this.
For those who find social situations especially nerve-wracking, the Internet can provide a way to make friends and form a community. These methods of communication can at times make romancing even easier. Although there are definitely problems with this, too, it still stands that meeting a romantic partner is actually easier than it was ever before.
This article fails to even mention online dating, which has evolved over the years and has now taken the form of quick and easy apps like Tinder, Grindr and Friendsy. When those products are taken into consideration, it seems that technology has the potential to boost a person’s prospects for whatever type of interaction they are searching for. The article assumes that millennials solely use technology to scroll through Facebook and Instagram, which is not evenc lose to the truth.
In terms of “overthinking” sexual activity, this may be for the best. Millennials are doing a lot of things smarter than their elders, like eschewing smoking and avoiding teen pregnancy, which hit an all time low in 2011 and has dropped six percent since then according to the CDC. (“Reproductive Health: Teen Pregnancy) With more information available to us thanks to technology, perhaps millennials are Being informed is a priority to millennials, as 68% support abortion and 88 percent support comprehensive sex education. (Advocates For Youth, “Compreensive Sex Education“)
It can be gathered from these statistics that this generation would rather have less sex than bear unpleasant and potentially life-changing outcomes. Even those who have not had comprehensive sex-ed and live in sex-negative communities have access to information at the touch of their smartphone, and any questions or concerns can be answered in a matter of seconds, at that very moment, from multiple sources. Millennials, it appears, would be more likely to delay having sex because they’re using their phones to Google reviews of contraceptives than due to browsing Twitter. Economic conditions may also have effects on the decision to hold off sex, as our lack of funds usually are not due to an absent work ethic, but the dearth of jobs. Millennials know their situation, and would likely rather forgo fooling around than risk STDs or pregnancy, especially considering the alarming percentage that live without healthcare due to the financial strain. It seems that this generation deserves a pat on the back, rather than a scolding, for this level of self-control and self-education.
Having less sex seems like an odd and counterproductive reason to critique millennials. This type of “embarrassing” information comes off as more of a desperate attempt to present yet another thing wrong with “kids these days” than actually useful and productive data. If anything, this information should make millennials proud that they have more discerning and informed perspectives, and that this could lead to incredible advances in sexual health and education as we grow older and gain more power in the world.
Millennials, ultimately, have more to worry about (many of those things are direct results of the actions of the “wiser” generations) than getting it on, and are clearly well educated in the potential repercussions. After all, didn’t they tell us that being smart is sexy?
—Sophia Burns ’18 is a student at Vassar College.