Researchers from San Diego State University, Florida Atlantic University, and Widener University analyzed data from the General Social Survey, a sociological survey conducted since 1972 to monitor trends in the United States. They looked specifically at 26,707 respondents’ answers to how many sexual partners they’d had since their 18th birthdays. Respondents born after 1990 were less likely to have engaged in sexual intercourse than their counterparts born in the 1960s, 1970s, and even 1980s.
Only about 6 percent of “Generation X-ers” (respondents born in the 1960s and 1970s) reported sexual inactivity after their 18th birthdays. For millennials, and specifically “iGen-ers” (those born in the 1990s), 15 percent of 20 to 24-year-olds reported having no sexual partners since their 18th birthdays.
“This generation appears to be waiting longer to have sex, with an increasing minority apparently waiting until their early twenties or later,” study co-author Jean M. Twenge said in a statement.
The findings may seem counterintuitive considering the widespread use of dating and “hookup” apps. However, they are closely aligned with the growing number of millennials waiting until later in life to marry and have children. In the 1960s, on average, American men and women married in their early 20s. Now, the average age American women marry is about 27-years-old, and 29 for men.
Any number of factors may be responsible for this trend. Researchers found it hard to pinpoint when or why the shift occurred, but speculate that safety concerns, technology thwarting in-person interaction, and the 2008 economic downturn may have all contributed to this generation’s apparent sexual inactivity as they reach young adulthood.
“The the ubiquity of the Internet — including access to pornography, Netflix, and social media — might be the largest factor,” study co-author Ryne Sherman told The Culture Trip. “Of note, the iGen group showed the most dramatic difference. The internet became fully commercialized in 1995. So for this latter group, it has existed for virtually their entire lives.”
It’s hard to tell the impact that this generation’s decision to wait will have on future generations. In 2014, Boston Globe columnist Tom Keane predicted that millennials coupling later “could prove tragic”, listing the negative economic and possible social consequences of trying to navigate the world without an established nuclear family. The researchers, on the other hand, have a more optimistic view.
“I hope that these findings help provide accurate information to young people about how often their peers are, and are not, engaging in sex,” Sherman said. “Giving people accurate normative information will help them make the best decisions for themselves.”