Here's How Many People Millennials Really Have Sex With ... Versus Our Parents

Here's How Many People Millennials Really Have Sex With ... Versus Our Parents

Oh, to be a millennial. We have Tinder, Grindr and a smorgasbord of dating sites that can instantly find us a partner with just a swipe. So we're probably having more sex than any generation before us, right?

Nope. That's the finding from San Diego State University researchers, who analyzed a massive data set from the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey of more than 33,000 American adults taken between 1972 and 2012. They found an adult millennial has 8.26 sexual partners on average, compared to 11.68 for the boomer generation. 

That means our parents — at least those born in the 1950s and 1960s — had more sexual partners than us. But that doesn't mean we're more "prude" or traditional than our parents; ironically, we're more tolerant of casual sex than ever. We're just not having as much of it.

A generational shift in attitudes: Millennial attitudes toward sex outside of marriage have never been more positive. In fact, those of us born in the 1980s and 1990s might be the most tolerant of all, the study found: 58% of respondents in 2012 said there was nothing wrong with sex before marriage, up from 49% in the 2000s and 29% in the 1970s. (That reflects in our behaviors — as by age 44, 99% of adults have had sex, while 95% do it out of wedlock.) The same permissive view held for teen sex.

The sea change also carried over to our generation's views of same-sex sexual activity. Among 18- to 29-year-olds in the 2010s, 56% believe there is nothing wrong with same-sex relationships, up from 21% of boomers in the 1970s. 

Why we're less busy than mom: It may be that we're more educated and aware. With more information and choices about sex, millennials are taking a more studied track than previous generations, including their folks.

"The drop in sexual partners between Gen X'ers and millennials was a little bit of a surprise, but not entirely," Jean Twenge, co-author of the study and author of Generation Metold Mic. "Other surveys have shown that millennials are waiting longer to have sex as teens, and these more cautious sexual choices are persisting into adulthood."

It's not that millennials are having necessarily less sex than their parents (and, hey, there's no normal) — we just might be more aware of the consequences associated with new partners.

A culture of sex positivism: With greater visibility and acceptance of sex in our culture, millennials feel less pressure to conform to the social cues of previous generations and take a more individual look at sex.

"The results do seem to suggest that each generation forms their attitudes toward sexual behavior early on," in their lives, Twenge said. "While the 'Greatest Generation' learned that sex was for marriage, the majority of Gen X'ers and millennials believe there's nothing wrong with premarital sex." 

This trend shouldn't be a surprise. The study's findings are in line with an overall pattern of sexual tolerance and awareness. A 2014 study in the Journal of Sex Research found that this generation is more likely to have sex with a casual date, while further research found a growing acceptance of open sexual relationships. Plus, a recent study from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 75% of millennials favor teaching comprehensive sex education in schools, 87% believe health insurance should include STD and HIV testing and 44% open up to their friends about sexual health issues. Open-mindedness about sex is a generational hallmark.

After all, we've been exposed to more sexual ed, nuanced sex scenes on TV and in films, and sex popping up on social media (from Gloria Steinem's clit ring to YouTube social experiments). Open-mindedness about sex is a generational hallmark — even if we're not having more of it.

h/t Time