Why Millennials Aren’t Fucking

Younger millennials are having less sex than previous generations did at their age. What gives?

Last week, my 20-year-old cousin told my brother, friend, and me (who are all in our late 20s) about the girl he’d hung out with the night before. He was exhausted, he said, because he’d stayed up until nearly the break of dawn with this young woman, talking about life.

“So, did anything happen?” one of us asked.

No Nothing Hapened :‘My generation has such a narrow, restrictive definition of cool that we’ve forgotten to have fun.’ Photograph: AP

Nope, nothing happened. The question that was most important to the three of us was totally secondary to him.

Sure, he found her attractive. And sure, he would’ve had sex with her. But she was a friend’s roommate, and he didn’t want to put that friend in a weird spot. He also didn’t want to stay up all night, and despite the fact that she opted to snuggle up next to him on the couch and talk to him until 3 AM about her life, he wasn’t totally sure if she even wanted to hook up.

We, the elder assholes, were incredulous. How could he have failed to make a move? How, especially at that age, could he prioritize anything over sex?

Many millenials reported finding intercourse difficult and the inability to climax, the study found. Photograph: Alamy
But the data shows that my cousin isn’t an outlier. Two studies in the last year have pointed out that today’s young people are having less sex.

In one study, Dr. Jean Twenge, a professor and researcher at San Diego State University, found that millennials reported fewer sexual partners than Gen-Xers and even baby boomers did at the same age. And a 2015 report from the Center For Disease Control found that fewer 15- to 19-year-olds reported experiencing sexual intercourse than in previous generations. The decline was significant in both genders, but particularly among men.

I am a millennial, so I fit into this framework too. But the latter study points to the possibility that sexual activity among millennials is continuing to trend downward for the younger half of the generation, meaning younger millennials (like my cousin) are even less sexed than older millennials (like me).

A friend of mine, who is 29, recently told me about a high school memory: She had sucked a guy’s dick, consensually but begrudgingly, because she felt like she was falling behind her peers. She just wanted to get it over with. I felt similarly about nearly every developmental stage of my life—that it was coming too late—which seems absurd in hindsight.

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My cousin, my 20-year-old sister, and their friends don’t seem like that. I think of them as a new prototype—kids who are, on the surface at least, so much more self-assured than we were at their age. And if they’re having less sex, then maybe it’s because they’re better adjusted to the pressures of early adulthood. Are we in an era, I wondered, where young men and women think of sex without judgment but don’t feel pressure to have it?

I ran my theory by my younger relatives. “Hmm, maybe,” my sister responded—but she quickly pointed out that commitment was shamed among people her age so intensely that even casual sex could be perceived as too intimate. Some of her friends even opted to avoid sex altogether so as not to confuse casual sex with commitment in their own minds, or risk catching feelings.

The research paints an even darker picture of millennial sex lives. Anxiety and depression-related indicators have been rising for more than half a century, according to a 2009 study from Twenge and her colleagues. More young people are using antidepressants and stimulants, like Adderall, which can kill sex drive.

Plus, there’s the logistical issue that more young people are living with their parents. “Even after the recession, that has been true,” said Twenge, who also covered millennial culture in her book Generation Me. “You’re not going to bring a parade of partners through mom’s basement.”

Kids are also more overwhelmed by work and school, giving them less time for partying and sex. So instead, younger millennials turn to porn, which is easier to access than ever before. “I’ve seen a lot of patients—I have to say, young men who are not sexual at all, and it’s partially because they satisfy themselves via the internet and porn,” said Dr. Ildiko Kovacs, a UC San Diego psychiatrist and professor focused on psychiatric, behavioral, relationship, cultural, and religious factors affecting sexual health. The influence of porn is a relatively new trend, she said. “We see early on, even from high school, that they turn to porn [and] get immediate gratification. They don’t have to bother another person. They’re not going to be rejected.”

While the decline in sex could be a manifestation of millennial anxiety, it could also be a sign of a generation that’s more cautious, despite having more liberal views of sex. Teen pregnancy rates have fallen sharply, and millennials are both more likely to use condoms and generally have fewer sexual partners than previous generations—which some view as a sign that millennials are more concerned about sexual health. “This was the first generation to ride around in car seats, to not walk home from school,” said Twenge, “and they may be more concerned with some of these safety and health issues that may come with having more partners.”

At the same time, there’s a lot of pressure on young people today. Between the expectations set by porn and the constant scrutiny of their sex lives by researchers and the media, today’s 20-somethings have come into consciousness in a world of constant analyses.

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“I think there’s a lot of performance pressure on young people,” Kovacs, the psychiatrist, said. “To do it a lot, to do it great, to do it [perfectly]. It’s like a project for some people. And for some people, this is a negative development. They just don’t even want to bother. And think in college you see that a lot. They don’t want to put the effort in. There are more important things to do.”

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