In a recent study published last year by Jean Twenge of San Diego University and Ryne Sherman of Florida Atlantic University in Archives of Sexual Behavior, the authors discovered that the millennials (born between 1982-2004) are having fewer sex partners than their Gen-Xer parents who were born in the 1960’s and having about the same amount of sex that the Boomer generation was having when they were that same age.
The reasons that some researchers, theorists, and writers give as to why this might be happening are varied. One reason given is that many millennials have moved back in with their parents (if they ever moved out) after college due to less paying jobs, higher rents/real estate prices post-recession, access to privacy is not available to them.
Another idea includes the fact the millennials grew up with the fear of HIV/AIDS as the pervasive message in their Sex Ed classes and were more cautious about exploring more numerous partners. In addition, millennials are getting married later than previous generations and as Twenge wrote in an email: “married people are having sex less often, but (with age controlled) they still have more sex than the unmarried, and there are more unmarried people”.
What I find most interesting about this research and how it influences my millennial clients is how it affects their understanding, sexual practices and how they define sex.
In this study and the more recent Archives of Sexual Behavior study Sexual Inactivity During Young Adulthood Is More Common Among U.S. Millennials and iGen: Age, Period, and Cohort Effects on Having No Sexual Partners After Age 18 the researchers do not provide sexual behaviors from which to choose from, so most of the respondents most likely consider sex to mean vaginal penetration.
Given this question, the role of hooking up becomes more curious to me in terms of the variety of sexual behaviors with which millennials do have experience, whether these behaviors included giving and receiving pleasure, whether both partners experienced orgasms, and whether the experiences were integrated with an emotional connection (the last item most often NOT experienced in a casual hook-up).
So how does the lower number of intercourse partners, and the frequency and variety of hook up experience prepare millennials for long-term, committed emotional, sexual relationships?
This is an important question my team of therapists address when millennial couples come in for help at my boutique practice Center for Love and Sex in New York City. We help them develop the critical communication skills needed to express authentic desires, deeper insecurities around low libido, erectile loss, and erotic curiosity and frustrations. We allow them a safe place and solid interventions to learn what emotions they’re trying to express while integrating their past erotic triggers.
I am also keenly aware that for many of these new couples, having sober sex is a novel experience and without the liquid courage they relied in when dating and/or hooking up, the increased anxiety around sexual activity and discussing their needs with the person they love can become overwhelming and intrusive once they have passed the novel dating period and become a committed and at times co-habitating and/or engaged or newly married couple.
I find helping my clients discover an expanded, more realistic sexual education with a new view of what SEX and Sex Esteem actually means (the whole smorgasbord of sexual behaviors), they can begin to explore a much wider menu of activities, decide how their particular emotional connection can at time inhibit their erotic expression and realize the best way to negotiate their potentially differing ways to enter their individual erotic zone with their partner, they can begin to differentiate more effectively and not take the requests or signals as a personal hurt or with anxiety.