'It used to be Netflix and chill, now it's just Netflix most of the time' - meet the no-sex generation
A new study shows that millennials are having less sex than any generation since the 1920s. What's going on with our young people? Our reporter asked them
Published 05/08/2016 | 11:20
What's up with millennials? According to a new study, they are having less sex than any generation since the 1920s.
That news may have raised eyebrows around the world - after all, older generations always expect their younger counterparts to be wilder than they ever were - but in fact, it comes as no surprise to anyone that fits the demographic.
The research, conducted by the US journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour, found that people born in the 1990s are twice as likely to be sexually inactive as the previous generation was.
Some 15pc of those surveyed reported that they had no sexual partners since the age of 18, compared with just 6pc of people born two decades earlier when they were in the same age group.
While commentators were quick to joke that the sexual inactivity was due to our preoccupation with Pokemon Go and cold-pressed coffee, many young people find that the whole experience of sex has become fraught with anxiety, whether that means feeling self-conscious about not measuring up to the camera-ready ideal or tackling problems such as pain or inability to climax during the act.
The latest National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyle revealed that more than a third (33.8pc) of sexually active young men and nearly half (44.4pc) of young women in Britain reported that they didn't enjoy sex and had experienced at least one sexual problem in the past year.
Those are just the ones who are having sex - for the thousands of young Irish people abstaining from sex, by choice or otherwise, there are a whole different set of obstacles to grapple with altogether.
Researchers working on the new study speculated that millennials were having less sex because they were spending more time online, rather than interacting face-to-face with others. The accessibility of online pornography and the ever-increasing swathes of young people living with their parents were also mentioned as possible explanations for the trend.
"I am currently experiencing a lengthy dry spell, and I think that's mainly down to living with family again. Past a certain age, when you live with your parents you can't really just do what you want any more," says Lucy (22), a music promoter from Dublin.
"If I meet someone on a night out but have already said I'll be coming home, I feel too weird about a 2am text to my family saying I'm not coming back after all."
Charity worker Kate (24) says she experienced the same problem. After graduating from university, she struggled to make enough money to afford accommodation in Dublin. She has been living at home with her mother for the past two years, and says it's had the biggest impact on her sex life.
"I met this great Australian guy a few months ago but he was staying in a hostel and my mum was home so nothing happened. The one time I did bring a guy home, my mum was so p***ed at me that I've not done it again," she recalls. "She kept saying, 'he could be anyone, he could steal all our stuff!' She wouldn't even make eye contact with me, it was so awkward."
The presence of mum and dad one room over isn't the only factor contributing to millennials' increasingly quiet sex lives. The rise of social media has ushered in an expectation of 24/7 picture-perfect glamour, and many young women feel they can't have sex unless they've carried out the seemingly necessary preening and prepping.
"A few months ago I didn't go home with someone because I hadn't shaved my legs in a few days and I was worried he would judge me on it, which is retrospectively ridiculous," Lucy says.
"Or I'll worry that maybe I haven't done enough exercise lately so I won't look good naked. Sex is fun, but I feel like the longer I go without it the more I - stupidly - turn it into something else to be anxious about."
Women in long-term relationships say they feel the same pressures, even when they've been sleeping with the same person for years. "I think it has a lot to do with women feeling they have to look 'Instagram perfect', it sets unrealistically high standards," Helen (26), a digital analyst, says. "Two of my friends won't have sex with their boyfriends if they're a week away from a Brazilian wax."
The ubiquity of dating apps has given rise to hoards of think pieces hysterically declaring the "dating apocalypse", but rather than embracing that "hook-up culture", some millennials have found the move to digital dating particularly tough.
"I think since it all went digital, it's become much harder to meet people. Everyone's on Tinder now so you when you meet people in person it's difficult to talk to them," says Dublin-based IT worker Oisín (27), who revealed he hasn't had sex in almost two years because he doesn't like using dating apps and has struggled to meet people offline.
Lucy notes that the focus on physical appearance and the hunt for photos that will perform well on the app only adds to the anxiety. "I got Tinder recently and it's actually made me feel even weirder about sex - it is so, so focused on how you look. There's something oddly sterile and removed about it, it's not a very fun or spontaneous means to an end."
Journalist Rachelle (23) adds: "Young people have more regular sex in a relationship, and we're eschewing monogamous relationships more and more now for the likes of Tinder and Grindr. So of course sex is more sporadic, and it's also a lot more work."
The issue of sex as "work" comes up time and time again, as a breathless round-the-clock work culture and fixation with career status has left young people more concerned with their professional lives than their sex lives.
"Stress from work is a big factor. Maybe in the past it was easier when people didn't work so much, but now both of us are under so much pressure working full time that we really have to make a conscious effort to have sex regularly," says Sinead (26), who has been in a relationship for three years.
Videographer Matthew (23), also from Dublin, says that although he uses apps like Grindr and Tinder, he struggles to find time in his demanding work schedule for dates or even casual sex.
"I don't have time to have sex because of how hard I'm expected to work. Shift rotations, last minute changes, working on weekends and more means that sometimes I'm working in the evenings when everyone else is off.
"I think for a lot of people they are forced to sacrifice sexual interests for a good performance at work," he says.
"Especially with smart phones and apps like Slack where people are constantly in the loop of what's happening at work, we never really leave. I've had to turn down dates quite often even simply because I was working erratic hours that didn't fit with my potential lover's equally erratic hours."
The popularity of other forms of entertainment - particularly Netflix's binge-friendly series - plays a part in the trend. As Sinead points out, after a 10-hour day at work, many of us would rather collapse in front of the TV than gear up for some strenuous bedroom exercise.
"I think sex is seen as something of a poor man's pleasure," she says. "We can just watch Netflix instead. If I have to choose between the sex and the last episode of 'Stranger Things' - well, it's no contest. It used to be 'Netflix and chill', but honestly now it's just Netflix most of the time."