The rise of dating and hook-up apps means that access to sex has never been easier—at least in theory. Although other singles are now never more than a right-swipe away, and sex positivity means that many of us feel more comfortable exploring our sexuality—research suggests that millennials are getting down and dirty far less frequently than you might expect. In fact, in what The Atlantic termed a “sex recession,” young adults are now having far less sex than prior generations.
Calling this a recession is perhaps apt. After all, many millennials came of age not long before or during the financial crisis, and it seems that economic uncertainty has had an unwelcome impact on our sex lives. More millennials are still living with their parents than any other comparable generation within the last century, as CBS News reported—and if there’s anything sure to put a dampener on keeping your most recent date up all night, it’s knowing that mom and dad are just next door.
“Millennials have grown up in a culture and dating climate that is very different from that of their parents’ generation,” psychotherapist Toni Coleman explained. “Due to economic concerns that stem from the great recession, college debt, and wages that haven’t kept up with inflation, millennials are living at home with their parents until much later than the generation before them. They don’t have the same autonomy, are restrained by limited income, and are working longer hours, often in high stress jobs just to cover expenses and debt.”
More millennials are still living with their parents than any other comparable generation within the last century—and if there’s anything sure to put a dampener on keeping your most recent date up all night, it’s knowing that mom and dad are just next door.
Financial instability and the concurrent rise of the hustle culture also means that millennials could simply be too stressed out to have sex. With many of us working long hours, taking on side-hustles, or working in the gig economy, burnout is at endemic levels, as The Guardian reported. With studies suggesting that high levels of self-reported stress tend to be linked to lower levels of sexual activity, it’s easy to see that millennials could simply be too burned out for bedroom antics.
But dig a bit deeper and it’s clearer that the reasons are much more myriad than simply being overworked and out of pocket. Young people are choosing to settle down much later than their parents’ generation, and some simple sex statistics show that being single almost guarantees a reduction in sexual activity. In fact, 21 percent of single people report not having had sex at all in the last year, compared to just 9 percent of married individuals.
With many of us working long hours, taking on side-hustles, or working in the gig economy, burnout is at endemic levels.
For some, the choice not to get married is an empowering one. As women continue to have increasingly impressive careers, our reliance on coupling-up decreases, and we have less incentive to settle down young. But there is also an argument that millennials might be being a bit too picky. Although online dating gives us a plethora of opportunities to meet people, we rarely capitalize on them, with only one in 500 matches leading to an exchange of phone numbers, according to Hinge data. Expert Jean Twenge, who has conducted field-defining research into millennial sex habits has pointed to online dating as a cause for our declining bedroom antics, pointing out that the appearance-focused nature of apps like Tinder and Bumble mean that a significant proportion of users are missing out on making connections, whilst others are writing off people they might have considered in real life.
“Online dating has led to greater safety issues, and issues with comfort and trust due to concern that the person you have connected with is also connecting with others at the same time,” Coleman explained. “There is no question that social media places a focus on looks and outward signs of success and attractiveness. It doesn’t support people in getting to know someone slowly, over a period of time, often first as friends—all of which help to seed long-term relationships.”
Although online dating gives us a plethora of opportunities to meet people, we rarely capitalize on them, with only one in 500 matches leading to an exchange of phone numbers, according to Hinge data.
Staying behind our screen when dating is also part of a broader trend. As young people increasingly socialize via their devices, we have less opportunities to go out and meet people. Rather than enabling hook-up culture, it is possible that our digital society has made us simply all choose to stay home scrolling instead. One UK study suggested that young people now spend over a third of their leisure time online, leaving us less time for the kind of face-to-face intimacy required to kickstart sexual activity.
And yet, there are some positive potential reasons why millennials are having less sex. The #metoo movemement has had a significant impact on how we view sex and consent. Research suggests that since the movement, men are more afraid of engaging in sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention, whilst conversations about how women can feel more empowered to say no to sex are becoming more commonplace. Women are also masturbating more, per The Atlantic, which, although perhaps a necessary side-effect of low sex rates, is also an important way of exploring personal sexuality and guaranteeing a satisfying experience.
Although many of the reasons for declining sex rates may be concerning, they are also deeply complex, reflecting a generation with nuanced social, sexual, and financial needs.
Sex is an important form of self-expression, contributes to our happiness, and helps us bond with our partners—and what’s more, it’s fun! It seems that millennials could be missing out on a number of health and social benefits, but the story behind our dwindling sex lives is much more complicated. Although many of the reasons for declining sex rates may be concerning, they are also deeply complex, reflecting a generation with nuanced social, sexual, and financial needs. It seems that our lack of intimacy may say less about millennials themselves than it does about the world in which they live.