Way back when, during a time that wasn’t 2017, before Tinder and Bumble and online dating, romantic relationships were a sacred thing. Not that I would personally know, considering I’ve only been alive 20-something years.
However, from stories old people tell, and just general knowledge and whatnot, we know that modern dating (and sex) is definitely not what it used to be. In fact, dating for Gen X’ers was wildly different than those before them, and not surprisingly, sex and dating for millennials is unlike anything history has ever seen. That, I would know.
According to researchers from San Diego State University, led by Professor Jean Twenge, "Millennials hold the most permissive sexual attitudes of any generation, though they chose to have sex with fewer partners than Gen X'ers did at the same age.”
So, it sounds like millennials are having the most free-spirited and least judgmental sex of any generation, however, they’re having less sex than Gen X’ers did. Interesting.
To throw in some hard stats, let’s visit a report that the CDC released last week, documenting the decline in sexual activity among teenagers: between the ages of 15 and 19, 42 percent of women and 44 percent of men reported having sex, relative to a significantly higher 51 percent of women and 60 percent of men in 1988. Wow! Staggering!
But isn’t it a little odd that, despite being the most liberal generation yet, millennials are having less sex than the pessimistic, nihilistic generation before them? Yeah, I would say so, especially considering the fact that millennials have all kinds of dating apps for any kind of casual sex they could possibly hope to have.
With all that in mind, why are millennials having less sex than previous generations? If they have so many options and all the freedom in the world to explore said options, why aren’t they super duper promiscuous? The answer as to why is still a mystery, even to experts, but Dr. Wade has a theory.
"What has definitely changed is the frame for the sexual activity," Wade says, explaining that the umbrella term “date” has a different meaning now than it did in generations past.
Simply put, in previous generations, when two people went out on a date, nine times out of ten it meant that they were seeking a romantic relationship that they hoped would lead to marriage. Now, though, it’s very, very common for two people going out on a date to want absolutely nothing more than sex.
To illustrate, a “date” in 2017 can simply mean going to a bar together, getting obliterated, calling her by the wrong name all night, proceeding to have terrible Tinder sex, and then never speaking again. You get the idea.
Because of this change in backdrop, “the way we then choose to interact and communicate changes. Suddenly, everyone is working off of different scripts, or templates of interaction and behavior,” as VICE puts it.
"The 'just sex' script are both sort of very palpably present, and they have a really hard time knowing which one they're supposed to be using with the other person, which one the other person is using, and when it might flip on them," Wade says. "One of my students said she felt like there was no ground beneath her feet. It's just gotten more confusing."
Wade explains that in this new context and new form of communication, it’s a safer bet to go with the “just sex” script, because you won’t look desperate, and you’ll avoid rejection by not wanting anything more than to get all up in her panties.
"So, with everybody defaulting to using the 'just sex' script, or ready at a moment's notice to flip over to the 'just sex' script to deny vulnerability, then that's not gonna be very rewarding, because it requires them to pretend like they don't care about anybody.
"People may actually care about each other and want romance, or they might not, but everyone is kind of having to perform this disinterest."
Long story short, the problem here is that millennials feel like they need to act like they don’t care about anybody, and they act like they don’t want to actually date and have a meaningful relationship. Isn’t that sad? I think that’s really sad.
But here’s the catch – even though they act like they don’t give a single fuck about emotional connections, they actually do. Numbers don’t lie. A lot of young people are, in fact, looking for fulfilling relationships with potential life partners.
"I suspect a lot of the sex young people are having is partner seeking… so the sex isn't really for pleasure; it's for this other purpose of finding somebody.
"If what you're doing is looking for a partner in a culture that expects you to have sex before expressing romantic feelings, this sex becomes part of the game you're playing. So, you wouldn't necessarily expect the sex to be that great, because you're just kind of trying people out,” Wade concludes.
And so, to sum up this wildly long discussion, millennial sex is strategic, and not as mindless as it seems. The end.