As sure as you’re born, you can count on aging generations to have a negative view of those that come after them. Baby boomers played their rock and roll music too loud, gen X’ers had their drugs and free love, and millennials… well. What don’t they do? This is the generation of selfies, taking shots of vodka to the eyeball and participating in teen sex acts too atrocious to name here. Except, they’re not. According to a large study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, millennials may be more permissive of premarital sex than ever before, but they’re actually likely to have fewer sexual partners than their boomer and gen X parents.
“Although millennials are more tolerant of these behaviors, they’re not taking that as license to sleep around,” report author Jean Twenge told Time Magazine.
The study, which covered 33,000 people across generations (age adjusted) found that for the first time, the average number of adult sexual partners is less than the generation preceding it. Millennials average just over 8 sexual partners as adults, while baby boomers averaged a whopping 11 at the same age. Gen X’ers weren’t far behind with an average of around 10. All of them are a significant departure from the earlier “greatest generation,” who averaged just about two partners each.
Despite the reduced promiscuity, millennials have a more forgiving view of premarital sex than any other generation. 58% of respondents in 2012 said that there was nothing wrong with premarital sex, up from 44% in 2004. Millennials are also more tolerant of homosexual behavior, with 44% finding no problem with it, versus just 11% in 1973.
“Millennials have never known a world where premarital sex was a taboo,” Twenge said.
As for why millennials are having comparatively little sex, Twenge thinks it’s less about ideology and more about safety. Millennials came of age at the height of the AIDS and STD scare, and since the topic of sex was no longer so taboo, more robust conversation probably led them to proceed with more caution than their parents may have. It’s also possible that due to reduced pressure about sex from their peer group, millennials don’t need to fulfill their desires with clandestine, non-committal affairs. If a millennial wants to have sex, they can do so with their non-spouse significant other, and no one seems to mind.
Still, that doesn’t mean that sex is a dinner table topic in the homes of most millennials.
“What you might see when millennials are discussing these issues with their boomer parents is that millennials are more permissive of sexuality,” Twenge said, “but boomers might have to shut their mouths about how many partners they’ve had.”