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Six Truths About Millennials and Sex

Inspired by the “Sex-T”  trend of the gTrend Teen Report by GTR Consulting — 

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Today we are going to address some rumors about teens’ views on sex and reveal whether they are Totally True or Not Completely True.  Keep in mind that, as with everything about this generation, Millennials have complicated and sometimes contradictory feelings about sex.

Rumor #1:  Today’s teens are more open to and supportive of same-sex relationships and the LGBT community in general. 

TOTALLY TRUE.  This generation more than any other is in favor of gay rights and same-sex marriage. Seven in ten people born after 1981 support the idea and even say they would be interested in having a same-sex partner.  “Open minded, we are” (in their best Yoda voice).

Rumor #2:  Part of the reason today’s teens are more experimental is their increased exposure to sex.

TOTALLY TRUE.  Not only has the Internet opened up a world of porn (whether accessed on purpose or by accident), entertainment and the media have exposed teens to hyper-sexualized movies, videos, video games, and even ads, eroding many taboos around sex. For many teens, sex has become pedestrian and everyday, but many wish it were less casual.

Rumor #3:  Today’s teens are more likely to engage in casual sex than previous generations – they are the “hook-up” generation.

NOT COMPLETELY TRUE.  As sex has become less of a big deal to teens, the focus is more often on hooking up rather than having a long-term relationship. This is not to say they don’t want to be part of a couple—in fact, they look with envy and some nostalgia at committed relationships.   Although they want more than casual sexual encounters, it is often just not in the cards. On the plus side, they are far more open to talking (read: texting, tweeting, etc.) about sex and sexual issues than ever before.

Rumor #4:  Today’s teens use dating/hook-up apps like Tinder to find each other.

TOTALLY TRUE.  Tinder recently revealed that 7% of its users are between the ages of 13 and 17, making it the gateway app for online dating.  Teens have been “meeting people” on Facebook for years, so it’s not surprising that they turn to online dating sites, particularly when the age-old feeling of “there are no guys at my school” hits.  Other apps, like MeetMe and Skout, are also open to ages 13+, but Tinder’s notoriety has stirred the most controversy and ignited complaints that it needs to raise its age limit.

Rumor #5:  Despite all this hooking up, US teen pregnancy rates are down.

TOTALLY TRUE.  Teen pregnancy in the US is at an all-time low. There are a lot of factors and theories behind this. Is it due to education? Awareness? The availability of birth control? Could MTV’s show 16 and Pregnant have had an effect? (Professors Melissa Kearney of the University of Maryland and Phillip Levine of Wellesley College conducted a study that literally connected a reduction in teen pregnancy rates to watching the show.) Other possible factors include regional and ethnic differences or even the Recession Theory.

Rumor #6:  Teens are “coupling up” less than previous generations.

TOTALLY TRUE.  The first generation that has never been without a smart phone is more likely to have casual encounters rather than relationships. So even though being “in a relationship” is easier to publicize than ever, teens aren’t doing it as often.

In January 2013 Alex Williams penned a provocative article for the New York Times titled “The End of Courtship,” which many people took issue with or mocked but, at the same time, kind of agreed with.  In the article he puts forth the idea that instead of the obsolete dinner-and-a-movie date, teens rendezvous over texts, Facebook posts and instant messages that are leaving a generation confused about how to land a boyfriend or girlfriend.

In the end, everyone agrees that dating has changed and technology is only part of the story. Other causes are involved, like increased pressure to succeed in school or the fact that this generation grew up during a recession. Or perhaps this change is simply part of a cultural progression wherein people aren’t looking to settle down in their 20s, so their trajectory for dating is much longer.

So what can we conclude about today’s teens and sex?  Perhaps Dr. Zhana Vrangalova said it best in her Psychology Today article on casual sex: “These modest changes may indicate shifts in the terminology surrounding sexuality, rather than sexual behaviors themselves.”  In other words, teen sexual behavior may not be changing as drastically as it appears, but attitudes toward sex and the way it’s talked about have definitely changed.  It’s not quite a revolution, but more of a revelation.

Gary Rudman
President, GTR Consulting

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