“We are far less accepting of pressured sex.” But some experts are concerned that the drop-off reflects the difficulty some young people are having in forming deep romantic connections.
They cite other reasons for putting off sex, including pressure to succeed, social lives increasingly conducted on-screen, unrealistic expectations of physical perfection encouraged by dating apps and wariness over date rape.
Claudia, who did not want her last name used because “I don’t want all my professors reading about how I’m a virgin,” said her parents worry. I’m just like, ‘Eh, it’ll happen.’ ” Millennials have been called the most cautious generation — the first to grow up with car seats and bike helmets, the first not allowed to walk to school or go to the playground alone.
“They always ask me: ‘Are you against relationships? ’ My mom — she hooked up all the time in college — she’s like, ‘I would still love you, but are you gay? The sense of caution sometimes manifests itself as a heightened awareness of emotional pitfalls.
“It ends up putting a lot of importance on physical appearance, and that, I think, is leaving out a large section of the population,” said Twenge, who teaches psychology at San Diego State University.
“For a lot of folks who are of average appearance, marriage and stable relationships was where they were having sex.” Unlike in face-to-face meetings where “you can seduce someone with your charm,” she said, dating apps are “leaving some people with fewer choices and they might be more reluctant to search for partners at all.” It does not help that many millennials are relatively unfamiliar with the kind of down time it takes to really get to know a partner.
“This was the group that really started to communicate by screens more and by talking to their friends in person less,” said researcher Jean Twenge, lead author of the two studies.
In high school, she and her friends were so focused on schoolwork that they did not date.“On college campuses, you see older people scratching their heads about ‘safe spaces.’ ” Twenge said.“That’s about emotional safety, this new idea of words being more harmful,” referring to “trigger warnings” and other terms college-age people use to talk about potentially trauma-inducing stimuli.“The nature of communication now is anti-sexual,” said Norman Spack, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.“People are not spending enough time alone just together.Granted, the vast majority of young adults are still having sex, but an increasing number of them appear to be standing on the sidelines.