Many recent studies have shown that, despite the notorious youth “hook up” culture, millennials are having less sex than previous generations. But is this supposed trend real or à la Bill Clinton, a matter merely of not engaging in “sex” as they understand “that term to be defined”?
The latest research on this front comes out of Britain, with the Telegraph reporting that “Millennials are waiting longer to have sex, with one in eight still virgins at 26 years old.”
“The Next Steps project, the brainchild of the Department for Education [in the U.K.] which is now managed by University College London, has tracked 16,000 people born in 1989-90 since they were 14,” the paper continued.
“The interviews, conducted in 2016, discovered a rise in the number of Millenials [sic] waiting longer to have sex compared to previous generations, where one in 20 reported still being virgins at around the same age.”
Research in the United States has found the same pattern. For example, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2016 that “Millennials are having less sex than any generation in 60 years.”
This is counterintuitive enough in our sex-infused culture to inspire humor. The Telegraph commenters did not disappoint, either, with one quipping about the millennials, “If they do not know what sex they are[,] how would they know who to approach?” Another chimed in, “My guess is that most girls just aren’t that into the whiney beta-males that our feminist culture has created, which in turn creates virgins of all nine genders.” (Actually, he underestimated the current number by at least a factor of 10.)
Joking aside, what explains this bizarre phenomenon? Susanna Abse, a psychoanalytic psychotherapist at the Balint Consultancy, cited a fear of intimacy bred by a hypersexual culture. She told the Sunday Times that young people find living up to today’s toned-body-and-ultra-performance ideal “daunting” and that young men, in particular, fear being humiliated and exposed in their Facebook group. Yet there’s far more to it.
Owing to the Clintonesque mentality, conceptions of what types of sex are morally allowable have widened, yet conceptions of what “sex” is have generally narrowed. For instance, young people will certainly report less “sex” if they view fellatio and other such activity as “something other.” But this isn’t a decrease in sex but an increase in rationalization.
Despite this factor, the research does seem to have identified a real phenomenon, one even more advanced, like so many things, in Japan. Consider: The Independent reported last year that nearly “a third of Japanese people are entering their 30s without any sexual experience, according to research.… Some men claimed they ‘find women scary’ as a poll found that around 31% of people aged 18 to 34 from the island nation say they are virgins.” In 2013, The Guardian informed that “45% of Japanese women aged 16-24 are ‘not interested in or despise sexual contact’. More than a quarter of men feel the same way.” How could this be? Men, famous (infamous?) for sky-high libidos, not interested in sex? Are monastic mentalities sweeping the world? Hardly.
Not coincidentally, Japan’s porn viewership is as high as its fertility rate is low. And this is a major factor everywhere in the Internet age, with porn available at a button’s touch. Add to this that millennials’ true passion appears to be money, and anecdotes such as one the Washington Post related in 2016 make sense. As the paper wrote:
Noah Patterson, 18, likes to sit in front of several screens simultaneously: a work project, a YouTube clip, a video game. To shut it all down for a date or even a one-night stand seems like a waste. “For an average date, you’re going to spend at least two hours, and in that two hours I won’t be doing something I enjoy,” he said.
… He has never had sex, although he likes porn. “I’d rather be watching YouTube videos and making money.” Sex, he said, is “not going to be something people ask you for on your résumé.”
That attitude does not surprise Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University and chief scientific adviser to the dating site Match.com.
“It’s a highly motivated, ambitious generation,” she said. “A lot of them are afraid that they’ll get into something they can’t get out of and they won’t be able to get back to their desk and keep studying.” [Emphasis added.]
To illustrate porn’s significance, imagine you’re a young person who, almost from the time of puberty, has regularly imbibed porn. If the channeling of your sexual energy into such a thing becomes habitual, is it surprising that you might lose interest in normal relationships? The practice could assume the character of a fetish and supplant normal sexuality completely.
Yet there are more factors in this phenomenon still:
• Millennials’ have a historically low marriage rate. And, obviously, since married people are less likely to be virgins than the non-married, it follows that a decline in marriage should be attended by some increase in virginity.
• One in six Americans are on antidepressants, and the rate appears even higher among millennials. And these medications are known to suppress libido.
• The #MeToo movement mentality, the broadening of the definition of “rape,” and the tendency to view men thus accused as guilty until proven innocent has made many fellows gun-shy with girls.
• Millennials are a cynical generation, having little trust in much of anything (political parties, institutions, etc.). So it follows that they may be cynical about romance, too, and then why expend the energy when you have Miss Compliant on the computer?
• Related to the last point, the coarsening of our culture has made sex animalistically ugly. And the virtual fantasy girl is exactly who you want her to be.
• Sex aside, people continually immersed in an electronic world don’t have as much human contact of any kind as those, in previous generations, who had to find their stimulation face-to-face.
• Some observers, such as an incurably optimistic editor I know, also point out that a subset of millennials may be rebelling against our empty, hypersexualized, hook-up culture and rediscovering more traditional sexual mores. After all, the only rebel in Sodom is a saint.
Whatever the case, the advent of “sex robots” should only exacerbate the phenomenon in question here. So Westerners can perhaps more than ever sing “I think I’m turning Japanese.” For the Land of the Rising Sun isn’t raising too many sons (or daughters) with its low fertility rate, and the West, similarly barren, is racing Japan to the bottom. Who knew that the old hedonistic line would ultimately become “wine, computers, and song”?