Relax, Everyone: Millennials Are Getting Laid Plenty

Here's what the hand-wringing over two new studies of millennial sexual activity — or lack thereof — misses.

Two studies came out recently showing that — surprise! — millennials get laid less than their parents did.

My Baby Boomer colleague Sandy Hingston wrote that as soon as she heard the news, “I knew the kids would twist themselves into pretzels explaining to me how that’s a good thing. After all, we’re the ones who ruined the environment, razed the economy and stuck them all with a hundred grand in college debt, so how could anything that we did ever be good?”

That’s funny, because as soon as I read the headline “Why Millennials Might Be Having Less Sex Than Their Parents,” I knew that people would find a way to lecture my generation about it.

A survey of 33,000 people, which was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, found that millennials are on pace to have an average of eight sexual partners by middle age. Compare that to Gen Xers and Boomers, who have slept with an average of 11 partners. Folks born in the 1940s and 1970s have more notches in their belts than millennials, too — they’re averaging 10 partners. But hey, wrote Time, at least millennials are “doing better than their grandparents!” Members of the Greatest Generation, poor losers that we all know them to be, have had an average of just two partners each.

This news shocked the world. After all, Tinder! And sexting! And millennials’ devil-may-care attitudes about premarital sex! And that goddamned hookup culture!

As it turns out, millennials are “hooking up” with an average of three fewer people than their parents did — three. And this is apparently serious cause for concern.

When GQ’s Julieanne Smolinski suggested that perhaps the quality of sex matters more than its quantity, Hingston wrote in Philly Mag, “Oh, Julieanne. The thing about having sex with a lot of different people, dear child, is that it helps you figure out what you want and don’t want in a partner, not to mention what pleases you and what won’t. … It’s what makes finding a life partner in 21st-century America different from finding one in 17th-century Russia.”

So, let me get this straight: Unless we sleep with at least the same amount of people that our parents did, we’re going to be totally clueless about what we like in bed? We’re going to wander around life with an emptiness inside us, which can only be filled if we shack up with three extra partners? Three more people — that’s what will transform us into God’s gifts to men and/or women?

Yeah, I dunno. I think we’re getting plenty. An average of eight sexual partners isn’t anything to cry over. And it’s really not that different than 10 or 11 people. Someone’s twisting themselves into a pretzel, I think, but it ain’t us.

There are a couple other statistics on millennials and sex that are freaking people out. The same study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that one in three people in their 20s have not had sex at all, while a survey found that 49 percent of twenty-somethings haven’t had sex in the past year.

“Hey you guys?” wrote Hingston. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but your 20s is when you have the most sex in your lifetime … ”

Wait, when who has the most sex, exactly?

Hingston continues: “… Or at least, it was before you all turned your 20s into an extra decade of junior high.”

Ohhh, right, you. The Boomers. And that generation became the benchmark … why again?

As it turns out, data on how often people have sex is pretty complicated. For instance, a 2010 Indiana University study, which surveyed nearly 6,000 people between the ages of 14 and 94, found that a higher percentage of single guys in their 30s and 40s say that they’ve had sex in the past year than those in their early 20s do. Meanwhile, a higher percentage of single women in their 20s report that they’ve had sex in the past year than those in their 30s and 40s do.

One trend that you can pull out from the data is that, regardless of how old you are, you’re more likely to report having sex in the past year if you’re married than if you’re single. And that might partly explain why almost half of 20-somethings haven’t gotten any in the past 12 months: Millennials are getting married later than other generations, and for plenty of good reasons.

What’s particularly annoying about all this hand-wringing over millennials and sex is that when the going theory was that my generation was promiscuous, I don’t recall any old hippies cheering on our sexual liberation. Nope, I remember being pitied and condemned. It’s the Madonna-whore complex writ large. When millennials supposedly slept around, we were sluts. Now that it turns out that we don’t, we’re prudes.

“If you ask me,” Hingston writes, “millennials aren’t getting any for a simple reason: They’re scared” — of being accused of sexual assault, of not matching up to porn stars, of getting close to someone in real life, she says.

Actually, I don’t think there’s anything simple about the fact that millennials are on track to have slightly fewer sexual partners than their parents did. We’re talking about 1) a whole generation, which is made up of 75 million people for Chrissakes, and 2) why those people make certain choices about sex. What’s more vast than the array of different sexual preferences out there?

I think Hingston is right that some of my peers aren’t having that much sex because they fear intimacy. For other millennials, growing up with a greater awareness of STDs, particularly HIV/AIDS, is probably leading them to be more cautious about sex. And maybe there’s truth to the idea that some millennials don’t do that much serious dating. Oh, and the abstinence-only classes of the 2000s must be part of the equation. Same with millennials’ declining marriage rates, and the (awesome) fact that all decisions involving sex (including the decision to not have it) are more tolerated these days.

I could go on and on. Point is: Chill out, everyone. The kids are alright. We’re not dead-eyed robots who are going to cease reproducing because we prefer staring into the abyss of our iPhones to having sex. For lots of different reasons, we’re just doing things slightly differently than our parents. And every generation can appreciate that, right?

Follow @HollyOtterbein on Twitter.