Last week, the Public Religion Research Institute published a survey on the millennials' view on sexuality, religion, politics, and morality. The study largely found that millennials determine the morality of a situation based on context, and often avoid taking hardline stances on issues that polarize older generations, such as abortion and homosexuality. As The Washington Post noted on Monday, the PRRI survey showed that more millennials find sex between two people of the same gender to be more morally acceptable than casual sex (42 percent versus 37 percent).
These results dovetail with other studies showing that millennials are having less sex than previous generations. A 2013 national survey by University College London found that millennials are having sex an average of 4.9 times a month for men and 4.8 times for women, compared to 6.2 and 6.3 respectively a decade ago. Besides speculation on morality, other hypotheses have proliferated about why millennials are having less sex, despite the ubiquity of skin in today’s culture. One of the co-authors of the UCL study was widely quoted as saying, “People have tablets and smartphones and they are taking them into the bedroom, using Twitter and Facebook, answering emails.”
That wasn't meant as a scientific conclusion, but some latched onto the quote as evidence that easy access to porn, distracting apps, and the endless scroll of Facebook are lowering the libido and the amount of free time for sex. That argument has since become commonplace. Earlier this month, in a Guardian article titled "Why is Generation Y having less sex?," Hannah Slapper argued that technology, plus our fear of missing out (FOMO), gives us sexual anxiety.
One of my ex-boyfriends would, as standard, roll over and check his BlackBerry as his first post-coital act. After a while, I started to do the same. There was an unanswered question: what have I missed? It became a serious issue, something we subconsciously asked beforehand—what would we miss if we had sex now? Is there time for this? Would it be more convenient later?
An article in Business Insider took this idea one step further by suggesting that we’re developing “intimate” connections with our smartphones.
A slightly more nuanced, and less creepy, explanation is that online dating, and being in the digital world in general, allows millennials to be social without daring to interact in real life (IRL). When there are thousands of potential dates to be swiped, developing an intimate connection with a single person seems may seem like an unnecessary risk. "More and more technophilic and commitment-phobic millennials are shying away from physical encounters and supplanting them with the emotional gratification of virtual quasi relationships, flirting via their phones and computers with no intention of ever meeting their romantic quarry: less casual sex than casual text," writes Teddy Wayne in The New York Times.
There is also the possibility that millennials are having less sex because of how they were raised. The pressure of living up to the expectations of helicopter parents, getting into a prestigious college, and snagging that perfect career has caused millennials to forget how to love. In an article in The Atlantic on why college students need classes in dating, psychologist Lori Gottleib says, "Millennials have been so coddled by their parents and teachers that they are now unable to accept others' opinions and realities. Which makes it hard when, in a relationship, your reality is that you will go to the farmer's market and make a healthy salad together, and your partner's reality is Starcraft."
One of the most reasonable explanations comes from Rolling Stone’s two-part “Tales From the Millennials’ Sex Revolution”:
Millennials are pioneers in their own right, navigating a wide-open sexual terrain that no previous generation has encountered — one with more opportunity, but also more ambiguity; less sex, but potentially better sex, or at least sex that has the potential to exist as much for its own sake as it does for any other. Ideas of whom one can sleep with and how, and what that means in terms of one’s sexual identity, have never been more fluid. The possibilities have never been so undefined.
In other words, yes, some millennials are having less sex than previous generations. Some are probably having more, or in different ways with different people. But the reasons are a lot more complex than the headlines—including this article's—would have you believe.